Israel Expands Remapping Effort in Bid to Claim More West Bank Land

Special team is reexamining which areas are under Israel's legal jurisdiction so it can build or expand settlements.

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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A Palestinian shepherd walks near the Jewish settlement of Revava, near the West Bank Village of Salfit, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010. Danny Danon, a pro-settler lawmaker in Netanyahu's Likud Party, said Saturday that settlers have already moved equipment into the Revava settlement in the northern West Bank. He said activists would lay the cornerstone for a new neighborhood on Sunday, the last day of the slowdown, and planned additional construction Monday after the restrictions formally end."Building will begin there tomorrow afternoon and continue there on Monday," Danon said.(AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)
A Palestinian shepherd walks near the Jewish settlement of Revava, near the West Bank Village of Salfit, Sept. 25, 2010.Credit: AP
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

Israel has enlarged the territories it is remapping in the West Bank with the aim of declaring them state lands, according to a survey conducted by a nonprofit that monitors Israel’s land policies in the region.

Kerem Navot’s report is based on data supplied by the Civil Administration (the branch of the Israeli military that deals with civilian matters in the West Bank) through a freedom of information request. The group says that more than 62,000 dunams (15,320 acres) were remapped in 2015.

The group notes that there was an increase in the territory remapped east of the West Bank separation barrier and in areas currently designated as firing zones. The report also claims that thousands of dunams were negligently declared state lands.

The remapping of areas in the West Bank is conducted by the Civil Administration’s “blue line" team. This team, comprising legal experts, cartographers and inspectors, uses digital technology to refine maps that were drawn in the 1980s using far less precise means. The aim is to confirm that territory now designated state land is indeed land over which Israel has legal jurisdiction, so it can build or expand settlements on it.

According to Kerem Navot’s report, 2015 – the last year for which data is available – was the team’s busiest year ever, save for 2005, which was the year the team started to operate in its current format, following a report on West Bank outposts by Talia Sasson, a senior prosecution official at the time. Sasson's report documented that many outposts had been established on land whose ownership was uncertain.

Over the past decade, the scope of the remapping has risen and fallen – from as little as 61 dunams in 2008, to between 6,000 and 20,000 dunams annually since 2009. But 2015’s total is by far the highest in recent years.

The declaration of land as state land is based on Ottoman-era laws still in force in the West Bank, under which rights to land are obtained by cultivating it.

Kerem Navot compared the maps of declared state lands with old aerial photographs, and found that land cultivated by Palestinians was nevertheless declared state land. According to the group, 14,716 dunams has been wrongly classified as state land.

For example, the group has aerial photographs from 1983 showing that lands on which parts of the settlements of Susya, Mitzpeh Yishai and Revava were built were being cultivated by Palestinians – which should have blocked their being declared state land.

“In the years of its existence, the team has retroactively approved the declaration of thousands of dunams that were clearly cultivated by their Palestinian owners,” said Kerem Navot’s Dror Etkes.

“Examining these ‘errors’ shows the motive behind many of them is clear: to permit construction on cultivated lands; to enable the paving of access roads to settlements; and to build roads to connect areas that were designated blue line areas but were detached from one another,” he added.

According to the data, lately the team has mapped more areas east of separation barrier than west of it. All told, since the blue line team began operating in 1999, it has remapped some 200,000 dunams east of the barrier and 121,000 dunams to the west of it, adjacent to Israel. However, since 2011, 73 percent of the areas remapped have been east of the barrier.

The report also shows that in 2015 there were marked efforts to remap areas now designated as military firing zones. According to the data, in 2015 more than 32,000 dunams were mapped in firing zones, compared to no such land at all in 2014 and only 2,000 dunams in 2013.

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