In documents released on Thursday to the High Court of Justice, the Israeli government has admitted what Palestinians have been saying for decades: that the Israeli government has taken over 99.3% of the West Bank, allocating most of the land to illegal Israeli ‘Jewish only’ settlements.The Israeli designation of 1.3 million acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank as ‘Israeli state land’ flies in the face of past Israeli claims that they are willing to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians on the status of land in the West Bank.
The documents were released as part of a lawsuit filed by Israeli human rights group Yesh Din that challenged the construction of the illegal settlement of Hayovel on stolen Palestinian land. The Israeli government argues that the settlement and the road leading to it are on ‘uncultivated land’, and have declared that such lands are subject to takeover by the Israeli government.
After 1979, the Israeli government began widescale takeovers of Palestinian land using a law that passed in the Israeli Knesset authorizing the Israeli government to take over any Palestinian land that had not been cultivated in ten years.
A study by Israeli researcher Dror Etkes found that the Israeli government has used land surveys that are meant to determine which land is cultivated and which is not as a political tool to take over nearly all of the land in the West Bank.
His report stated that his findings “prove the claims that Palestinian landowners have been consistently presenting over the past few decades: Under the aegis of the broad declaration of lands as state lands, which includes almost a million dunams, Israel has taken over extensive cultivated areas, which were stolen from their owners through administrative decisions over which public and legal oversight is minimal, because they were supposedly not cultivated.”
In the recent case of the outpost of Derech Ha’avot, the largest Israeli outpost colony in the West Bank, the Israeli High Court ruled that the takeover of private Palestinian land by the Israeli settlers was acceptable, leading the lawyers for Yesh Din (the Israeli human rights group representing the Palestinian landowners) to declare;
“Not only is the state reconciling itself to the breaking of the law, but it is also ultimately granting the usurped land to the lawbreakers. It is particularly outrageous that all the state authorities joined forces to accept the breaking of the law and are now attempting to provide an umbrella of state support, rather than combating organized ideological crime that violates human rights on a daily and hourly basis.”