The Absentee Property Law

The Absentee Property Law
Since its beginning, Israel has been looking for a legitimate coverage for its existence in Palestine. It tried to purchase lands from Palestinians as old as 1900s. After 1948 war, Israel has issued many orders and laws in order to make the confiscation of Palestinian lands legal. In 1950 Israel has issued Absentee Property Law, under which it transferred to the Custodian of the Absentee Property the lands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled in 1984, or internally immigrated (present absentees). This Custodian, according to this Law is entitled to all the rights of such land.
The Absentee Property Law was established in 1950, but was not of much effect in the West Bank until 1980, after the Israeli High Court has ruled in the Elon Moreh Settlement case 1979 that a state may not seize private land in an occupied territory in order to settle the occupying state’s civilian population for the ideological purpose of creating a permanent presence in the area and that those lands belonged to local Arabs and that the army had power to confiscate land only for pure military purposes, and not for civilian settlement of Israelis and that those lands. Accordingly, in 1980, the site was moved to the current location where the land on which it was established was deemed legally as ‘State Lands‘ and therefore Israeli settlement can be erected there. In many occasions to this date, Israel has applied the absentee property law under which it could legitimately confiscate Palestinian Lands under the pretext of ‘State Land‘ for the interest of the Israeli state in order to expand it settlements.
The West Bank
To make its mission easier, after 1967 war, Israel hindered Palestinians from registering their lands, this was a part of its plan to announce lands in the west bank as ‘State Land’ and thus transfer it to the Custodian of Absentee Property. Applying this law to the West Bank turned 51% of the total area into a State Land and thus be confiscated by Israeli State (total area of the West Bank is 5661162 Dunums, 2910213 of which is declared as State Property).
In fact, about 189000 Dunums ( 3.3%) of the total area of the West Bank is used for building settlements, and more than half (58%) of the land used for settlements based in the West Bank was declared as State Land (about 109639 Dunums).
The Wall
In 2002, Israel started its actions to build The Segregation Wall. Although Israel has justified that The Wall was for security purposes, it has proven that it is another way to isolate Palestinian lands for the favor of Israel; it used The Wall to annex settlements in the West Bank to Israeli state.
Israel has declared 632 Km2 of the Eastern Segregation Zone as State Land, including area of settlements, military bases, and some parts of the closed military areas. Besides, the total of the Western Segregation Wall area makes 13% of the West Bank (which equals 733216 Dunums). Lands on the west part of The Wall, i.e. the Seam Zone, are either villages whose inhabitants must obtain permits to stay in their homes and thus they are deprived from their right to freedom of movement and residency, or farms for Palestinians who were isolated on the other side of The Wall. Hindering Palestinians who live on the Eastern Area of The Wall from accessing to their lands on the other side allowed Israel to declare lands within the Seam Zone as ‘State Land’. Lands declared as State Property in the Western Segregation Zone make 55% of the mentioned area (equals 404842 Dunums). See Map 1

Map 1: The Israeli Segregation Wall Plan in the West Bank
East Jerusalem
After 1976, Israel has annexed East Jerusalem to the Israeli State and has changed the municipality boarders to divide the city into different Zones. While most of the city was given to Jews who were allowed to build and use the lands, Palestinians were given a marginalized part of the city. Besides Israel has raised racial regimes for giving permission; while it was easy for Jews to get construction permission it was almost impossible for Palestinians and therefore Palestinians were not allowed to maintain old buildings or to build on their tiny share of lands.
As for applying the Absentee Property Law, the situation in East Jerusalem was different from the West Bank, until 2004, Israel rarely applied the Absentee Property Law to East Jerusalem. This was during 1969 till 1970, when Attorney General Meir Shamgar sent a letter to Israel Land Administrator to inform him that he (the Attorney) has found it inappropriate to apply this law to Palestinians living in the West Bank and owned property in East Jerusalem.
During that time, the major confiscation of lands for the favor of building Israeli neighborhoods, which constituted 30% of the annexed territory, were usually under pretext ‘public needs’ and not under the Absentee Property Law.
In 1977, applying this law has started again, accordingly, Palestinians who do not live in East Jerusalem but have property there found themselves obliged to apply to the Custodian to continue possessing and using their property there. Eventually, the application of this law led to vesting property in the old city along with Silwan.
In 2004 the Israeli Government tried to confiscate thousands Dunums of Palestinian-owned lands in Jerusalem and to the interest of the Israeli State. This was the first methodical implication of the Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem since 1967.
Out of the total area of East Jerusalem (108711 Dunum), 2802 Dunums are declared State Land. In fact 29% of the settlements in East Jerusalem are based on State Land. In other words, application of the Absentee Property Law to East Jerusalem left 3% of the area under the Custodian of the Absentee Property, more than quarter of the confiscated lands under ‘State Property’ pretext is used for erecting more settlements.
The main aim of expropriation of those lands is to cut East Jerusalem from the West Bank and to increase Jewish existence in the area, until this moment 19% of East Jerusalem is used for Jews use only settlements. This has changed the demographical character of the city.
Israel has used all means to isolate the West Bank from East Jerusalem and from settlements it built and is planning to build, the Absentee Property Law is another mean for expropriation lands under legitimate coverage. Confiscating lands, isolating people from their own property, and denying Palestinian ownership in East Jerusalem is being of political and demographical great effect that aims at diminishing the Palestinian existence in the West Bank.

Prepared by: 



Categories: Reports