IDF Stops 2,000 Palestinians Returning to Jordan Valley

Thousands of dunams of absentee property illegally transferred to settlements, army bases.

Israel is preventing some 2,000 Palestinians who have left the Jordan Valley from returning to the area, in an effort to keep them from demanding their land back. Thousands of dunams of land have been illegally transferred to settlements and army bases in the area.

The Civil Administration has confirmed the existence of a list that had been known as the "List of 100," which now bears the names of the 2,000 banned Palestinians. All the requests of the people on the list to return to the territories under the principle of family unification, or even for short visits, have been rejected for about 30 years, when the ban was first instituted. The Civil Administration cites security concerns as the reason for its rejections.

In his testimony before the commission of inquiry into the evacuation of the illegal West Bank settlement of Amona, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has defined the establishment of settlements on private land as "land theft."

The previous head of the Civil Administration, Brigadier General Ilan Paz, issued orders more than a year ago to shelve the list, but due to a policy of closing off the Jordan River bridges to Palestinians a short time after the intifada began, Israel also banned entry to Palestinians with land in the Jordan Valley.

Using the absentee property to establish settlements and handing them over to Israeli farmers contravenes the law in effect in the territories. The law states that absentee property cannot be allotted for civil use and must be handed over for safekeeping to the Civil Administration official responsible for government property, a representative of the custodian general. The Histadrut Hazionit, which serves as the government's settlement body, generally carries out the handover. Legal advisers for the Judea and Samaria region have noted the illegality of the handover and suggested promising financial support in cases of lawsuits filed by the Palestinian landowners.

In an opinion written in October 2003, the attorney general said that if the matter reached the courts before it was resolved elsewhere, a chain reaction could be expected to take place that would "place the entire land area of the relevant communities at risk."

The settlement authorities apparently did not report to the house and land buyers, or to the mortgage banks that issued them loans, that they were involved in what was essentially land theft, as per Mazuz's definition.

According to the most recent state comptroller's report and military sources, the Jordan Valley land that has been handed over for the illegal construction of settlements and army bases amounts to thousands of dunams. Allocation for security purposes requires a specific injunction; but in several instances, the Israel Defense Forces has taken control of property without the necessary authorization.

In a few instances, the absentee property has been transferred to Palestinian residents living in the area, in exchange for plots of land they owned.

The Civil Administration said it was studying the comptroller's report and was working to fix the problems cited in the report.