HRA and Ittijah, position regarding the proposed reform in the Israel Lands Administration
"The proposed law violates international law and universal values"
Mohammad Zeidan -HRA General Director
Mr. Ofir Akonis, MK
Chairperson, Economics Committee
Re: Proposed Reform in the Israel Lands Administration
Ittijah, the Union of Arab NGOs, and the Arab Association for Human Rights respectfully submit herewith their position regarding the proposed reform in the Israel Lands Administration as published in Section 18 of the Proposed Law, 5770, p. 57.
1. The Israel Lands Administration (ILA) controls 93 percent of the total area of land in the State of Israel. According to the Israel Land Law, the ILA manages state land, land owned by the Development Authority, and land owned by the Jewish National Fund.
2. It is no secret that prior to the establishment of the state; the Jewish community in Palestine controlled six percent of the total historical area of Palestine. As a result of the establishment of the state, and following the passage of a long series of laws, the properties of the Palestinian refugees were confiscated and transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Assets. Moreover, land that had been allocated in favor of Arab communities was transferred to the state and the Development Authority, in addition to countless appropriations of the property of individuals and the public. The net effect was to impoverish the economic status of the Palestinians who remained within the territory of the State of Israel.
All these developments combined to produce a result that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world whereby the State of Israel enjoys absolute control of the most significant economic resource – land – effectively controlling 93 percent of the territory of the state.
3. To this day the state has been slow to implement land settlement relating to the land of the Negev, taking the approach that “time will play its part.” The state substantively impairs the right of existence of the Arab residents of the Negev and implements a policy of house demolition and the uprooting of communities.
Conversely, the state has enacted various laws establishing preliminary conditions that prevent the registration of the ownership of land in the Negev by the Bedouin, who have been the owners of the land in the Negev since ancient times – this with the goal of seizing control of this land.
4. The Arab population in the State of Israel has suffered and continues to suffer from a policy of discrimination in the distribution of the resource of land. Until the mid-1990s the Israel Lands Administration initiated the allocation of land to just two Arab housing projects in the 1960s, one in Nazareth and the other in Um al-Fahm. Since 2000 the ILA has marked land in several Arab communities. In most cases disadvantaged populations cannot realize their right to purchase the available plots for construction due to their high costs.
5. Moreover, the prevailing approach among the decision makers in the ILA is still one that is based on a policy of “redeeming the land.” This “redemption” seeks to take the land from those who have “invaded” it – the Arabs (who are actually the owners of the land) in favor of Jews in order to realize and implement the Zionist national ethos.
6. The proposed law attempts to remove the foundation for current and future claims to return to the homeland and to secure the land rights of Palestinian refugees, as well as internal refugees (Israeli residents and citizens) who number approximately quarter of a million residents. The proposed law effectively removes the future possibility of reaching a just solution to the conflict in the region.
As noted above, while 60 years have passed since the establishment of Israel, the question of land ownership has not yet been solved on the political level. Individuals and groups within the Palestinian people – both refugees and residents of Israel – still claim the right of ownership to land that you have termed “Israel land.”
7. It is not redundant to note that in accordance with international law, the transfer of ownership of the refugees’ assets to the state and/or its authorities and/or third parties on account thereof is considered unlawful, since this land was secured by the state and its authorities in 1948 after the Nakba and the issue is therefore subject to the international rules of war and the principles of international humanitarian law.
8. The ILA continues to market the land it manages through perpetual leases, in the case of land for construction and/or for commerce and industry. The periods of lease range from 49 to 99 years.
According to the proposed law, the ownership of urban land, including land that was formerly controlled by the Custodian of Absentee Assets, will be transferred. The significance of this transfer is that the state will be disconnected from the further residual ownership held in accordance with the contracts up to this point. The transfer of the ownership of the land of Palestinian absentees clearly entails the complete and final negation of the rights of ownership of the Palestinian refugees to these properties.
9. We draw your attention to the fact that, as noted above, this step is contrary to international human law and the rules of law. This step is completely contrary to the provision of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which considers the appropriation of property in occupied areas to constitute a breach of the Convention.
The section states: “Grave breaches to which the preceding Article relates shall be those involving any of the following acts, if committed against persons or property protected by the present Convention: […] taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
During the Nuremberg trials, which took place after the end of the Second World War, it was repeatedly determined that the expropriation of property from its owners after the end of the war constitutes a breach of the Geneva Convention and the 1907 Hague Convention.
10. International law includes countless acts of legislation and rulings concerning the obligation incumbent on various European states to return Jewish property appropriated during and after the war. We frequently hear of European rulings and legislation recognizing the right of the Jews who lived in Europe to the restitution of property appropriated during and after the war.
11. Intellectual honesty acknowledges that a State which is the direct consequence of the Second World War and its terrible outcomes, demands equal attention to the property of Palestinian refugees.
We believe that the state would act wisely and help build trust with its Arab citizens if it were to return to them areas that have been appropriated and permit the return of the internal refugees to their communities and land.
Moreover, and before it is too late, we urge you not to make any substantive change in the status of the property of Palestinian refugees. We propose that for the present no change should be made to the status of Palestinian property pending a permanent and just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Hussein Abu Hussein Salim Wakim
Chairperson, Ittijah, Haifa Chairperson, Arab Association for Human Rights, Nazareth