Global Policy Forum

A Third of Settlements on Land Taken for "Security Purposes"


By Meron Rapoport

February 17, 2008

More than one-third of West Bank settlements were built on private Palestinian land that was temporarily seized by military order for "security purposes," according to a report by the Civil Administration that is being published here for the first time.

The settlements in question, which include Ariel, Kiryat Arba and Efrat, have tens of thousands of residents, and many have existed for decades. A security source termed this a "difficult statistic" that is liable to cause trouble for Israel both in Washington and its own courts.

The defense establishment has consistently refused to publish this information, and a month ago, the Defense Ministry told a court that its publication would "damage the state's security and foreign relations." Peace Now, which discovered the data, said it proves that most of the settlements are illegal even under Israeli law, and termed the attempt to hide the information a "blow to democracy."

International law allows the seizure of occupied territory, but only for military needs. Instead, Israel built many of the settlements via such seizures, in defiance of a 1979 cabinet decision that forbade using private Palestinian land for settlements.

A legal source said the very fact that so many settlements were built in this way will make it hard for the state to convince the High Court of Justice that "military necessity" justifies keeping them in existence rather than returning the land to its Palestinian owners.

According to the Civil Administration data compiled in October 2006, 44 of the 120 West Bank settlements "are based to some extent" on lands seized by military order. A knowledgeable security source said that most of this land was privately owned by Palestinians.

In addition to Ariel, Efrat and Kiryat Arba - three of the largest West Bank settlements - the list includes major "ideological" settlements such as Ofra, Beit El, Psagot, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Elon Moreh and Shiloh; Jordan Valley settlements such as Gitit and Mechora; and even "quality of life" settlements such as Kfar Ruth, near Modi'in.

Until the late 1970s, most settlements were built on land seized by military order. In 1979, however, the High Court overturned a seizure order for the land on which Elon Moreh was slated to be built, saying it saw no "security necessity" for the settlement. Following that ruling, Menachem Begin's government decided that all new settlements or expansions of existing ones would be built only on state land, and since then, military seizure orders officially have not been used for this purpose.

However, a Haaretz investigation found that at least 19 of the 44 settlements on the Civil Administration's list were established after 1979, which means they violated this decision. Efrat, for instance, was established in 1983.

A few years ago, the Defense Ministry set up a task force headed by Baruch Spiegel to collect information on how the settlements were established and their current legal status. After Haaretz reported the existence of this database, several organizations, including Peace Now, asked to view the data, but were refused. They consequently went to court, and a month ago, the Defense Ministry told the court that releasing this information might "damage the state's security and foreign relations."

Attorney Michael Sfard, who represents several Palestinians whose property has been taken over by settlers, said the data "proves that systematic land theft for the purpose of establishing settlements was carried out via a fictitious and completely illegal use of the term 'military necessity.' The concealment of this information for all these years shows that the authorities also knew they were committing illegal acts."

In response, the Israel Defense Forces said: "These orders are in force until they are canceled. In some of these settlements, part or all of [the land] was declared 'state land' at the same time, but the seizure orders have not been canceled, either partially or totally." It added that "in general," seizure orders have not been used to build settlements since 1979, but "in the early 1980s, Nahal [an army unit] outposts were still built on the basis of seizure orders, and some later became settlements. There were also isolated cases during those years in which land was seized for roads or buildings for existing settlements."

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories: Land and Settlement Issues
More Information on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories


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