Get the Facts: Land Confiscation and the Palestinian Protest Villages

This factsheet addresses issues surrounding the series of Palestinian protest villages that were established every weekend for five weeks in January and February of 2013. Villages such as Bab al Shams and Canaan have been re-established irregularly since then.

The factsheet is broken into three sections, each with a few facts.

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The Protest Villages

1. Five Palestinian protest villages were established in the same number of weeks in January and February 2013 in various locations in the West Bank.
2. The Palestinian protest villages are a form of nonviolent resistance to Netanyahu's plans for further land confiscation and settlement expansion in the West Bank.
3. The protests at the tent villages were nonviolent. Yet, the Israeli government evicted them by force.


Land Confiscation

1. The vast majority of the land used for settlements is so-called “state land.”
2. Through confiscation, state-owned land in the West Bank has tripled since 1979.
3. Israel's policy for declaring land as state land in the West Bank violates local property law, which also amounts to a violation of international humanitarian law.
4. Palestinians are not compensated for land seized as “state land.”
5. It is almost impossible for Palestinians to block the confiscation or regain the possession of seized land.


Settlements

1. There is an almost universal international consensus that Israeli settlements are illegal. Even the United States publicly opposes them.
2. As of 2009, settlements controlled nearly half of the land in the West Bank.
3. Israeli settlement expansion threatens the viability of a two-state solution.
4. Settlements are a controversial issue in Israel.


The Protest Villages

1. Five Palestinian protest villages were established in the same number of weeks in January and February 2013 in various locations in the West Bank.

On January 11, 2013, the village of Bab al-Shams (Arabic for “Gate of the Sun”) was established near the village of Al Zaim in the Jerusalem hills. A new tent neighborhood, Ahfad Younis, was installed on March 20, 2013 near the site of Bab al Shams to greet President Obama on his visit to Israel.

The following Friday, the village of Bab al-Karama (“Gate of Dignity”) was founded on the lands of a West Bank village of Beit Iksa. Activists returned to the destroyed tent village of Bab al-Karama the next week and planted olive trees in the place where the tent village once stood.

On January 26, activists attempted to erect a protest village called al-Asra in Anin, near Jenin.

On February 2, the al-Manatir village was erected in Burin.

On February 9, activists attempted to erect tents at two sites in the South Hebron Hills—succeeding, for a time, at the second site. This site was called Canaan village. Canaan has been resurrected four times since its initial destruction, most recently on July 27, 2013.

2. The Palestinian protest villages are a form of nonviolent resistance to Netanyahu's plans for further land confiscation and settlement expansion in the West Bank.

With the exception of al-Asra village, which was a protest against Israeli policies on detaining Palestinians, all of the tent villages have been erected to protest Netanyahu's land grabs in the West Bank.

In December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his intention to expand Israeli settlement activity into the E1 area of the West Bank between Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim. The village of Bab al-Shams was established to protest this expansion of settlements.

Activists at Bab al-Karama were protesting the recent announcement that the Israeli military would be confiscating 500 dunams—or 124 acres—of land from the village where they set up their tents, Beit Iksa.

The al-Manatir village was founded in Burin, near Nablus, to protest the planned confiscation of village land for a nearby settlement.

Canaan village was established in the South Hebron Hills, which is under full Israeli military control. The village was a protest against Israel's refusal to grant building permits to Palestinians and its confiscation and demolition of Palestinian homes and infrastructure.

3. The protests at the tent villages were nonviolent. Yet, the Israeli government evicted them by force.

Protesters being pepper sprayed at al-Manatir

Both Bab al-Shams and Bab al-Karama were evicted within days of their establishment by Israeli military and police.

The last two evictions have been more violent than the first two. Al-Manatir was evicted mere hours after it was erected. The Israeli soldiers used "tear gas and violence" according to AFP, and many, including Haaretz, reported the use of live ammunition, though the IDF denied this. Photos and video from the scene record other rough treatment, including the beating of and use of pepper spray on unresisting activists (photo right.)

Skunk water—a putrid liquid that can linger on clothing for years—was used on activists during the eviction of Canaan village. According to reports, six people were arrested at Canaan, including two journalists, one of which was with the Associated Press.


Land Confiscation

For five weekends in January and February 2013, Palestinian peace activists established tent villages in various locations in the West Bank as a way to nonviolently resist the confiscation of that land by Netanyahu's government. Israeli authorities claim that the land belongs to the state; Palestinians say that the land is privately-owned by Palestinians. The issue of land and property rights in Israeli-occupied lands is complicated. This section is an attempt to address some of the fundamentals.

1. The vast majority of the land used for settlements is so-called “state land.”

B'Tselem Map: State Land in the West Bank. Click for full-size PDF.

For the first twelve years of its occupation, Israel's primary method for acquiring land for settlements was to requisition the land for military use, in which case the landholder was forced to lease the land to the Israeli government but still held on to ownership of the property. International law allows for the temporary requisition of privately-owned land in an occupied area if there is a legitimate security need. Israel claimed that settlements served a military purpose, and used this as a justification for its requisition of Palestinian land.

But a 1979 judgement by Israel's High Court of Justice put an end to military requisitions for settlement purposes. Thus, the ruling Likud government, which intended to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank, had to find another method for funneling land to the settlements. They decided to expand settlements into state-owned land. But the land owned by the state, at the time, was insufficient to meet the governments' goals. State-owned land was also largely concentrated in the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert, but the Likud government wanted to build along the central mountain ridge and its slopes, where government holdings were minimal. Thus, Israel began an aggressive campaign to acquire land through declarations of state-ownership—a campaign which continues to this day.

Military confiscation of Palestinian land still occurs today, mostly for building roads, creating "secure zones" around settlements, and for the separation wall. But declarations of state land are the main mechanism by which the Israeli government acquires land for the building of settlements. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem estimates that this so-called “state land” comprises 75 percent of settlements' municipal area and 66 percent of their built-up area. Meanwhile, Israel has refused to allocate state land for Palestinian purposes except in the case of the Jahalin Bedouins near Ma’ale Adumim, though they are now faced with possible expulsion from those lands as Netanyahu prepares to develop the E1 corridor.

2. Through confiscation, state-owned land in the West Bank has tripled since 1979.

When it first began its occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel assumed control of about 527,000 dunams—or roughly 129,000 acres—of land previously owned by the Jordanian government. That land amounted to about 9.1 percent of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem. Between 1979 and 1992, 908,000 additional dunams were declared state property. Today, state land constitutes at least 1.5 million dunams, or 26.7 percent of the West Bank, according to B'Tselem.

3. Israel's policy for declaring land as state land in the West Bank violates local property law, which also amounts to a violation of international humanitarian law.

Due to historical land relations in the area, a large amount of the land inhabited by Palestinians in the West Bank is not registered to anyone. Surveys were used by previous ruling powers, from the Ottomans to the Jordanians, to register land to holders who met certain conditions. As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation to adhere to the property laws that were in place in the West Bank before its occupation and not to change these laws unless they are changed in favor of the native population. The foundation for the West Bank's property laws is the Ottoman Land Code of 1858. According to B'Tselem, though, Israel's interpretation of this code advances Israeli interests to the detriment of the interests of the native Palestinian population. B'Tselem identifies three ways the Israeli interpretation diminishes Palestinian land rights:

  1. Under the Ottoman code, a farmer gained ownership of land after cultivating it for ten years, but cultivation wasn't strictly defined. A doctrine from the Mandate period, also applied during Jordanian rule, recognized ownership to whole parcels of rocky land as long as some fertile parts were cultivated. Israel, however, requires that at least 50 percent of rocky land be cultivated, even if that amount isn't arable.
  2. According to Mandate-era court rulings, a farmer who gained ownership after ten years of cultivation did not need to continue cultivating the land in order to retain ownership. Israel requires continuous cultivation of land in order for a farmer to retain ownership.
  3. The Ottoman code recognized communal rights to grazing land; Israel does not.

4. Palestinians are not compensated for land seized as “state land.”

Lands declared to be state-owned are not recognized by Israel to have a private owner—that's why Israel says it can claim them as state lands. Since the land has no private owner, Israel holds, there is no one to compensate for its seizure. Thus, landholders are dispossessed without compensation.

5. It is almost impossible for Palestinians to block the confiscation or regain the possession of seized land.

As Human Rights Watch has pointed out, Palestinians face significant hurdles in trying to regain possession of their land. Palestinians only have 45 days to appeal a seizure, though they often don't hear that their land has been seized until much later. Those who do have the time to file an appeal face costs they can't afford and a burden of proof they can't meet.


Settlements

1. There is an almost universal international consensus that Israeli settlements are illegal. Even the United States publicly opposes them.

The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to areas it occupies. Since Israel occupies the West Bank, and settlements are a form of civilian population transfer, these settlements are illegal under international law. They also restrict the movement of Palestinians, since Palestinians face roadblocks and restrictions whenever they come across Israeli infrastructure or settlement-controlled land. It is also a violation of international law for an occupying power to permanently change the territory being occupied. Yet, Israeli settlement activity is doing just that.

Recently, the UN Human Rights Council issued a report calling Israeli settlements in the West Bank "illegal", stating that they "violate Palestinian rights", and calling for their immediate removal.

As for the US, a legal advisor at the State Department during the Carter administration issued an opinion finding Israeli settlements to be inconsistent with international law. Recently, this view has been reaffirmed by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. US action has not, however, always been consistent with its public protestations, such as its move to veto a 2011 Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

2. As of 2009, settlements controlled nearly half of the land in the West Bank.

In a 2010 paper, B'Tselem reported that 2,399,824 dunams—about 42.9 percent of the total area of the West Bank—were under the control of settlements.

3. Israeli settlement expansion threatens the viability of a two-state solution.

A look at any map that shows settlement-controlled land demonstrates the already fragmented state of the West Bank. Netanyahu's plan to expand settlements to the E1 area would leave only a narrow corridor for Palestinian access to East Jerusalem and make the connection between many remaining Palestinian-controlled lands even more circuitous than it already is.

4. Settlements are a controversial issue in Israel.

Israeli public opinion is far from being unanimously in favor of Netanyahu's plan to expand settlements in the West Bank. According to a recent poll, the Israeli public is split on the issue of settlement expansion in the West Bank: 43.4 percent said they supported it, but 43.5 percent are in favor of a freeze.