Over 90% of evacuation orders issued by the civilian branch of Israel’s military authority for the West Bank were given to Palestinians, a new report by Israeli NGOs shows, using government data released following petitions to the High Court.
The data, which spans from 2005 through 2018, also shows that Israel evacuated people from more land in the Jordan Valley than any other region. This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the annexation of West Bank land, of which the Jordan Valley is a major focus, would begin on July 1.
The report, entitled “National Calamity” (Makat Medina), is due to be released next week by Haqel and Kerem Navot, two Israeli human rights organizations. It looks at 670 evacuation orders obtained following two freedom of information requests. The civil administration originally refused to release the data, and did so only in response to two court petitions.
The largest amount of territory subject to evacuations was in the Jordan Valley, where inhabitants were evicted from some 5,000 out of 12,500 dunams of land (around 1,235 of 3100 acres). “When you examine the locations of the eviction notices, you see a strong correlation between territory Israel has for many years devoted great efforts to annex and the numbers of orders, as well as their sizes,” Dror Etkes of Kerem Navot said.
Eviction orders are mostly issued on agricultural land, or land being prepared for construction, but some of the orders were also related to built-up areas. Most is regarded by Israeli authorities as state land, or land that has yet to be surveyed. Only a small portion of the land where evictions were ordered is shows up as private on the Israeli registry.
Some 222 eviction orders were issued in the Bethlehem area, 169 in Hebron and 83 in the Jordan Valley. Ninety-one percent of the orders were issued to Palestinians, a figure which matches past information provided by the Civil Administration. In 2018, Haaretz reported that only 0.25% of state land was allocated to Palestinians since 1967. In effect, this means that nearly all Palestinian construction on state land is regarded as illegal.
A peak number of eviction orders were issued in 2012 – 135 orders covering 4,181 dunams of land (around 1,033 acres). There were 94 in 2011, while in 2010 only 12 eviction orders were issued.
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The civil administration didn’t respond to Haaretz’s questions regarding the reasons for the spike in orders issued during these years, when no significant personnel changes either in the administration or the Defense Ministry could point to political redirection.
Land in limbo
In 1968, shortly after the Six-Day War, an order was issued stopping the process through which private land ownership in the West Bank was until then regulated.
According to the classification of the Civil Administration, a small amount of “state land” was registered with the Jordanian authorities until 1967. But most declared “state land” was declared as such after 1979.
The need for such a declaration emerged in October 1979, when the High Court struck down as unconstitutional the state’s practice of seizing Palestinian land, ostensibly for “military needs” but in practice in order to establish Jewish settlements.
Currently some 1.2 million dunams (around 300,000 acres) of West Bank land in Area C is considered state land. Since the 1990s, there has been a dramatic decline in the amount of land designated as state land, giving way instead to “surveying,” an official procedure which can take many years.
Most of the land covered by eviction orders, some 5,391 dunams (1,332 acres), is officially listed as survey land. Some parcels have been the object of a full or partial survey, but for some, the lengthy process has not even started. The uncertain status of the land means Palestinians are still working or building on it, while being at risk of eviction. In the Jordan Valley, around 60 percent of the eviction area falls in this category.
Until recent years, the process had been for the state to check “land rights and, when it concludes that it land isn’t private, it declares it state property, and whoever is affected can appeal,” attorney Qamar Mishriqi of Haqel told Haaretz.
“Today, Israel issues eviction orders in areas where the land hasn’t been declared to be state land. It is improper for the state of Israel to evict people from land that... hasn’t even been determined as state land or not,” Mashriqi added.
Of all the orders consulted under the freedom of information request, only 57 were given to settlers, mostly against tree planting or building green houses on state land. None were given to settlers in the Jordan Valley, focusing instead on settlements close to Palestinian villages and cities. The largest number, 21 in all, were issued around Bethlehem, while 12 orders were given to settlers around Tapuach and Elon Moreh, close to Nablus. Nine eviction orders were issued against settlers in the Ramallah area, specifically in the vicinity of Halamish and Shiloh, and seven were given around Kiryat Arba, close to Hebron.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry unit overseeing the Civil Administration, said in response: “Contrary to what is said, anyone receiving an evacuation order on state land, including what is referred to as ‘survey land,’ can appeal to the Military Appeals Board against the decision. In addition, anyone wishing to claim rights over unregistered lands can do so, allowing for a thorough investigation into their claims with regard to the status of the territory.”