In West Bank, 91% of land evictions issued against Palestinians — rights groups

In West Bank, 91% of land evictions issued against Palestinians — rights groups

Report shows majority of orders filed for land in Jordan Valley and Gush Etzion region, potentially revealing Israel’s long-term political vision for land beyond Green Line

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

A Bedouin shepherd walks with his herd of sheep in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank on September 11, 2019 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A Bedouin shepherd walks with his herd of sheep in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank on September 11, 2019 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Over 90 percent of land eviction orders issued by Israeli authorities in the West Bank between 2005 and 2018 were issued to Palestinians, a report published Monday by a pair of rights groups revealed.

The Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing West Bank land use, has a number of orders at its disposal to enforce against illegal land use. When a piece of land is deemed to be privately owned, it can issue a seizure order against the alleged invaders. When it is state land that is in question, the enforcement tool is an eviction order.

For years, the Haqel and Kerem Navot rights groups operating in the West Bank have sought to receive data on eviction orders, filing two Freedom of Information requests that were denied, before a High Court petition compelled the Civil Administration to disclose the information. The Defense Ministry body went on to share 670 eviction orders from the years 2005 to 2018.

The data shows that 609 of eviction orders — 91% — were handed out to Palestinians, while just 57 — 8.5% — were issued to Israeli settlers.

The Haqel/Kerem Navot report comes against the backdrop of a 2018 revelation by the Civil Administration that 99.7% of state land allocations in Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank have been granted to settlers; so while the vast majority of action on state land has been taken against Palestinians, almost all of the state land is allocated to Israelis.

An aerial photograph from 2009 of an eviction order issued for land of the Palestinian village of Husan, west of Bethlehem. (Kerem Navot)

Unlike seizure orders, which are relatively simple to issue, eviction orders require ongoing resources, administrative management, and supervision, the rights groups argue in their report, adding that as a result the latter injunction more “authentically reflects Israel’s long-term political vision for territory in the West Bank.”

The West Bank area with the largest amount of land targeted by the eviction orders between 2005 and 2018 was the Jordan Valley, which accounted for 82 of the injunctions, covering 1,236 acres of land. Last September, five months before the Trump administration released its peace plan envisioning Israel annexing all West Bank settlements in addition to the Jordan Valley, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to quickly apply Israeli sovereignty to the roughly 20% of the West Bank that makes up the Jordan Valley. The preservation of that area in recent years through eviction orders almost exclusively filed against Palestinians reveals the territory’s long-regarded strategic importance to Israel.

The area where the most eviction orders were issued against Palestinians was in the Etzion Bloc near Bethlehem, where 222 of the 670 injunctions were filed, covering 554 acres of land. The Etzion Bloc, like the Jordan Valley, has similarly been deemed a “consensus” area among Israelis who believe it will remain part of the Jewish state in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

Another area heavily targeted with eviction orders was around the southern West Bank city of Hebron, where some 1,000 Israelis live in heavily guarded compounds surrounded by some 200,000 Palestinians. The ancient city, home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site, is also included by right-wing lawmakers among areas over which they refuse to ever relinquish control.

According to the Haqel/Kerem Navot report, the plurality of eviction orders were issued against Palestinians for planting trees, greenhouses and other agricultural cultivation, followed by eviction orders against “massive development and cultivation” and “preparing land/breaking ground/fencing” respectively.

The concept of state land is based on mapping that was carried out before the establishment of Israel, during which some 148,263 acres were registered in the name of the “state” — the British Mandate at the time. These lands were then transferred to Jordan after 1948 and then to Israel after the 1967 Six Day War. Israel withdrew from some 17,297 acres as a result of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, but the vast majority remains registered to the Jewish state.

The Defense Ministry has also seized an additional 168,031 acres of West Bank land since 1967, similarly declaring it to be state land.

Roughly 55% of the total territory covered by the eviction orders between 2005 and 2018 fell under these classifications of state land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, vowing to extend Israeli sovereignty there if reelected, during a speech in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Nearly all of the remaining area covered by the eviction orders is land that was neither registered as private nor declared state land by Israel. Termed “survey land,” it refers to areas either already under review or deemed suitable to be declared state land by Israel.

However, because they are not fully classified as state land, the rights groups take issue with the Civil Administration’s issuing of eviction orders in those areas.

In a statement responding to the report, the Civil Administration said, “Anyone on state land or survey land who receives an eviction order can appeal the decision to [our] military appeals committee.

“In addition, any person who wishes to register his rights to previously unregistered land can do so through [our registration committee], which allows for a thorough clarification of claims in relation to land status.”

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