An internal Civil Administration document confirms a Haaretz report that the World Zionist Organization has allocated to settlers in the Jordan Valley more than 5,000 dunams (1,235 acres) of private Palestinian land located east of the border fence, namely, between that fence and the actual border with the Kingdom of Jordan.
This area between the border fence and the actual border — the Jordan River — is a closed military zone that in some places is two kilometers wide. A military order prevents the Palestinian owners from accessing their lands in this area. On the other hand, Jewish settlers are allowed to farm the lands.
In January, Haaretz reported that under the aegis of this order, the WZO had allocated to settlers in the Jordan Valley over 5,000 dunams of private Palestinian lands. Following this report, the Civil Administration began to investigate how this situation had come about and how much land had been allocated in this manner.
The documents that have come into the possession of Haaretz indicate that following the June 1967 Six-Day War and after the border fence was completed, Palestinians continued to farm their lands located close to the border. But following a number of incidents in which Palestinian farmers in this area helped infiltrators to cross the border into Israeli-controlled territory, the entire area was declared a military zone. Several Palestinians who owned plots in the area submitted applications requesting permission to farm their lands; however, their requests were denied.
In 1979, the WZO’s Settlement Division submitted a request for the cultivation of these lands “in light of the shortage of farmland in the Jordan Valley, a shortage that is preventing the expansion of existing communities and the establishment of new ones.” During the first government headed by Menachem Begin, the Ministerial Committee on Security Affairs authorized the cultivation of state lands or lands belonging to absentee owners.
In the wake of the committee’s decision, the Israel Defense Forces cleared the mines in this area. Plia Albeck, who directed the Civil Department of the State Prosecutor’s Office for 24 years and maintained close ties with rightist circles, issued a number of statements of professional opinion. In light of the statements she issued, the WZO was authorized to allocate some 75,000 dunams (18,750 acres) of land for farming purposes. Senior military officials, including then-GOC Central Command, Major General Amram Mitzna, approved the allocation of land for cultivation on condition that the farmers had served in the army and were permitted to bear firearms, and on condition that Palestinians would not farm the lands in their stead. It should be pointed out here that, despite the peace settlement Israel signed with Jordan in 1994, these guidelines were not reviewed and remain in effect to this day.
The Civil Administration subsequently signed three agreements with the WZO, allocating to the latter organization some 29,000 dunams (7,250 acres) for farming purposes. An examination conducted by the Civil Administration shows that a total of 8,565 dunams (2,116 acres) are cultivated beyond the border fence; of these, 4,765 dunams (1,177 acres) are Palestinian lands, 578 dunams (143 acres) are privately owned and another 3,222 dunams (796 acres) are state lands.
Discussions have recently been held in the Civil Administration and in the office of the coordinator of government activities in the territories on this matter. It is a complex legal issue, because the settlers farming these lands are not trespassers but are persons who were legally allocated the lands by the WZO. On the other hand, the lands also legally belong to their Palestinian owners. The coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, has instructed that all Palestinians who request compensation for the lands they cannot farm should be compensated by the Civil Administration.
A Civil Administration official has told Haaretz that the Civil Administration has no intention of initiating any action with regard to this matter. “If someone submits a petition to the Supreme Court in its capacity as the High Court of Justice, requesting that his lands be returned to him, we will have to decide what to do,” the official said.
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