Land Confiscation
The legal framework
2014-12-18

For many years, the Israeli Civil Administration has been acquiring privately owned land normally owned by Palestinians through different methods including declaring them state land.  This process started in the early 1980s and the result has been that vast areas of the West bank were confiscated using this method.

In order to do so, the Civil Administration using among other the ottoman land law of the year 1864 which provides among other things that if a land user neglects to cultivate his land for a period of ten years, then the state can expropriate the land and give it to another in order to make it productive. The Civil Administration used this law in order to confiscate thousands of Dunams (1D = 1,000 square meters) and in many cases, dedicated the land for settlement building instead of giving it to another local Palestinian in order to cultivate it.  It is worth pointing out that International law prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to live in occupied territories.
The appeal against such a declaration is lodged with the appeals committee which is a military court sitting at Ofer military camp just outside Ramallah.

In considering a case brought to it, the committee considers whether the Palestinian claiming ownership of the land has actually been working it ten years prior to the declaration of the land as state land.  Working the land is defined as cultivation only and it does not include grazing, quarrying or any other use of the land.  Furthermore,  cultivation is defined as actually cultivating the land at a percentage of 51% or more of the total area.  Any percentage less than that is not sufficient in order not to declare the land as state land.  The committee further looks into whether the land is registered either in the Ottoman Land registry or the subsequent British or Jordanian Registries.  Proving an Ottoman Land Registration is not always easy since the registrations do not state the exact size of the plots, but rather describes the boarders of the registered plot which leaves them open to wide interpretation.

A further issue which many land owners face the problem of delivery of the declarations.  As stated above the process of declaring plots of land as state land began in the early 1980s.  This was done in many cases through informing the Moukhtar (a Moukhtar is a village or community leader) of the village concerned who was also accompanied on a site visit either specific if the plot was small or a general one if the plot was big. The Moukhtar on many occasions neglected to inform the Palestinian land owners, who realized that their land was declared as state land many years later when the Bulldozers actually started working on his land.  In this case it is possible to petition the High court of Justice asking it to refer the case back to the appeals committee for consideration due to the lack of proper delivery to the person concerned.

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