Peace Now on Tuesday submitted a complaint to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz accusing the government of conducting a "systematic and institutional land grab" in the West Bank by building most of the settlements on land owned in part by individual Palestinians.Despite the obvious biases of Peace Now, the government is looking into the accusation. Meanwhile, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is getting ready to respond and Council head Benzi Lieberman said they will produce a report of their own to debunk the Peace Now allegations. Lieberman said they plan to hold a press conference in the coming weeks to expose the inaccuracies in the Peace Now report.
The complaint followed publication of a report by Peace Now entitled "Breaking the Law in the West Bank," in which the organization charged that about 40 percent of the land occupied de facto by the settlements was privately-owned Palestinian land.
Of course, that delay gives Peace Now the time they need for the results of their report to sink in.
According to the Jerusalem Post:
According to the report, Palestinians own almost 40% of all the land on which the settlements were built. This includes 86.4% of Ma'aleh Adumim, 44.3% of Givat Ze'ev, 47.7% of Kedumim and 35.1% of Ariel.
There are four types of land ownership in the West Bank - state-owned land, "survey" land, whose ownership is in dispute between the state and Palestinians, land owned privately by Palestinians and land owned privately by Jews.
Until now, the common understanding has been that since 1979, when the High Court of Justice overruled a military order to seize land for military purposes in order to establish the civilian settlement of Alon Moreh, all subsequent settlements were to be built on state-owned land.
Etkes told reporters, "for the first time, we can prove this isn't true.
- While the report claims that only 1.47% of the land at Karnei Shomron is Jewish-owned, in actuality almost all the area of the community is Jewish-owned as is the land at Etz Efraim community--indicating that Peace Now is discounting land purchases made by Jews.
- There are Arabs who have sold land but then claim otherwise because they don't want to be murdered for selling land to Jews.
- The pictures on the Peace Now website of the land supposedly owned by communities on the West Bank are misleading: "There is a vast difference between the area displayed and the actual area zoned at various government ministries and civilian administration offices. The boundaries are arbitrary, usually delineated by patrol roads which do not reflect on the actual property definitions."
- The State of Israel appropriated private land until 1979. Karmiel was built this way and even the Ein Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem benefited from such classifications. But Since, then, however, no Arab private land has been used for the Jewish communities.
- The Arabs have claimed for 50 years that they own 93 percent of the land which became the State of Israel--of which 43% was privately owned. The remainder of the land was identified then as the Sultan's Land. According to this claim, Jews owned but 7%. Peace Now has resurrected this claim.
- According to Article 6 of the League of Nations Mandate:
the Administration of Palestine... shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency... close settlement by Jews on the land, including state lands and waste lands not acquired for public purposes.As a result, the vast majority of the area in Judea and Samaria are lands under the direct control of the State--this is an issue expanded upon later in this post.
Peace Now admits that they are unfamiliar with the data that was leaked to them that was “updated to the best of our knowledge through 2004.”Likewise, they do not know for sure neither the authenticity nor accuracy of the information. A fact that did not stop them for using and publishing the data.
Peace Now brags that the data they received "served as a reference for attorney Talia Sasson when she prepared her government-mandated report on the outposts – a report which has been widely publicized and discussed"-- these were apparently unauthorized outposts, built without the necessary permissions from the proper authorities. However, contrary to Peace Now’s claim, in reality Ms. Sasson found that that the use of these private Palestinian land for outposts was not due to the theft of land, but instead to errors in the maps.
The errors in the Peace Now report are the result of mistakes in the crucial definition of terms.
According to the report:
Since 1967, Israel has made use of Ottoman legislation dating back to the middle of the 19th century in order to declare land to be “State land.” According to that law, all lands are considered "State Land" unless proven otherwise. To formally register land as private property, one must cultivate it for at least ten years. If the land is not registered, one would be considered the owner as long as he cultivates it and pays taxes on it. If the land is not cultivated for three successive years, it may become the property of the Ottoman State, i.e. "State Land".While the phrase "has made use of" implies underhanded exploitation, the fact is
Israel was and is obligated under international law, in particular the Hague Regulations of 1907, to maintain the legal system in the territories, and to respect, "unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." Thus it was not, as Peace Now clearly implies, an Israeli subterfuge ("Israel has made use of Ottoman legislation") to apply the pre-existing Ottoman – as well as British and Jordanian – laws in the West Bank.A second error Peace Now makes in the very same paragraph is in their mistaken claim that land must be cultivated for 10 years. According to the Ottoman land law that is used there is a category of land known as mulk--private land, where ownership is not related to cultivation and would revert to state ownership only if the owner died intestate.
A third error made in that same paragraph is that land which is cultivated for 10 years does not become private Palestinian land as Peace Now mistakenly claims. Instead, land acquired through cultivation is considered according to the Ottoman Code as at best miri land--land in which a person acquires a limited right of use. Contrary to Peace Now, such land remains the property of the state, and its reversion to the state is not limited to a failure to cultivate. Miri land is by definition state land.
A fourth error is the Peace Now claim that while prior to 1968 the land registration was open to Palestinians but not since. CAMERA quotes from a court case that proves that is not true
A fifth factual problem is a category of land which the Peace Now report neglected to mention altogether. Under the Ottoman Code, there is a category of land known as mewat ('dead land') which is applicable to the West Bank--unallocated or waste areas outside of inhabited areas which can be cultivated by special effort. Such development requires prior permission from the State. CAMERA quotes from a British Mandate source that clarifies:
Practically all the unoccupied land of Palestine is mewat and cannot be occupied without the permission of the Government.CAMERA finds that:
much of what Peace Now is terming “private Palestinian land” is in fact state land because it is mewat, and has been considered so for generations. The land on which Ma’ale Adumim was built, for example, was more than a mile and a half from the built up area of the closest Arab village, Al ‘Ayzariyah; the land was also rocky and on a ridge, and had therefore never been inhabited or cultivated. It was therefore clearly mewat land which belonged to the state and not to any private owners. [emphasis added]Thus, land which was once in the category of miri but later was abandoned or fell into disuse would lose even its limited rights--but Peace Now considers this land to still be private Palestinian land.
CAMERA concludes based on the Ottoman Code in effect and other documentation that:
There can be no doubt, however, that the majority of land that Peace Now calls “private Palestinian land” is in fact mewat, or waste land, and therefore permanently in the public domain, with not even rights to cultivate.Peace Now's report is riddled with factual error and omission of key law. One can only hope that as the facts come out they will be given the same exposure as the Peace Now report.