Even before Israel declared itself a State in 1948 the origins of modern Israeli land and planning law regimes had already been written. The Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901, was originally established for the purpose of acquiring land in Palestine, regardless of previous legal ownership, for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands.
By 1948, Israel had already begun enacting emergency legislation to deal with land acquisition. The Absentee Property Regulation was enacted to give control over “Absentee” (Palestinian) property to a Custodian of Absentee Property. The Custodian was entitled to seize such property and the burden lay on the Palestinian landowner to prove that he was not an “absentee.” The role of the Custodian was put on more solid footing by the Absentee Property Law, enacted in 1950, which allowed the Custodian to transfer absentee land to a body called the Development Authority. This body was then entitled to transfer the land to the Jewish National Fund on behalf of the State of Israel.
The Palestinians who refused to flee what became Israeli-proper in 1948 were also forced from the land. The Defense Regulations was used to declare “closed military areas” effectively denying Palestinians access to their lands.
The Land Acquisition Law of 1953 was enacted to guarantee the “legality” of the confiscation of land during and after 1953. It did so by retroactively legalizing the seizure of land on the basis of “security and “development.” So successful was this takeover that by 1951 the State of Israel held 92% of the land.
As a result of the June 1967 war, over 500,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and land. By June 15, 1967, only five weeks after the end of the war, Israel quietly established its first settlements in the Occupied Territories despite promised to Washington that it had no intention of doing so. By the end of 2016, approximately 650,000 Jewish Israelis live in the Occupied West Bank and close to 200,000 in Occupied East Jerusalem, plus an additional 25,000 living in the Occupied Golan Heights.
On my first visit to Israel/Palestine in March 2002, I interviewed a high school teacher in Ramallah. According to Elias, “All land confiscation is legal according to Israel. It is, of course, a way to control and disperse Palestinians. Just take a look at all the Israeli settlements across the West Bank. This was all land previously owned by Palestinians. Once a parcel of land is declared absentee or in violation of some obscure Israeli law, the Israeli bulldozers turn up. The Arab home is destroyed, its 300 year old olive trees uprooted, effectively erasing any evidence of a Palestinian presence.” (The continuation of this and other interviews can be found in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.)
Israel’s controversial proposed new law known s the Regularization Bill aims to legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts, or, in Israeli jargon, Jewish clusters.
According to Oren Yiftachel, co-chair of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, founded in 1989: “This proposed legislation could join the ranks of global terra nullius legislation with honor. In the name of invasion and colonial settlement—in this case, Jewish—this law would erase the validity of previous ownership systems in place for centuries. As settler leaders have reiterated, nothing will stop them from violating international law, and undercutting ethics and justice.
If passed, the new legislation will put Israel in its proper place as a pariah state.
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