Documents: Israel Used Waqf Land to Build Settlements, Separation Fence

Palestinian Authority and Waqf are trying to back get lands that were transferred over the decades to settlements and the separation fence, a PA official tells Haaretz.

Land belonging to the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust, has been transferred over the decades to settlements and the separation fence, according to Waqf documents and maps compiled by the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration.

The Palestinian Authority and Waqf are trying to get these lands back, an official from the PA's Interior Ministry has told Haaretz. The plots in question were transferred between 1967 and 2008 and are located mostly in the Jericho area.

The Civil Administration's maps have been obtained by settlements researcher Dror Etkes following a long legal battle. They show that the Waqf area within land under full Israeli control near Jericho totals 37,000 dunams.

Jewish homes and public facilities have been built on some of this land. The land was registered under proper land-registry procedures before the Six-Day War.

55,000 dunams in question

The Waqf says the land in the Jericho area that Israel appropriated for settlement and military purposes actually totals 55,000 dunams. The largest area, north of a village 10 kilometers north of Jericho, contains the entire area of the Na'aran and Yitav settlements, and most of the area claimed by the Nativ Hagdud settlement.

In this area, there is also a quarry used by Jewish settlements. The Good Samaritan Archaeological Museum, run by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority east of Ma'aleh Adumim, is also located on Waqf lands.

A document obtained by Haaretz reveals that months before the Six-Day War, Jordanian authorities ordered that one tract of land in the region be removed from the state registry and registered in the Waqf's name. Ibrahim Za'atra, a Waqf official in Jerusalem, told Haaretz that he has documents proving that lands were registered with the Waqf as early as 1955.

Responding to the Waqf's appeals, officials responsible for abandoned property in the West Bank have said the state has no definite intention at this stage to use the property. The officials promised that if the state puts together a plan to use the land, it will properly notify the Waqf.

"There is a reasonable chance that land in this area does not belong to the state," Uri Mendes, head of the Civil Administration's infrastructure department, wrote to the secretary of Kibbutz Na'aran.

"This clarification follows claims by Waqf representatives regarding Jordanian land registration shortly before the Six-Day War, and Jordanian directives that the land be registered in the Waqf's name and not as belonging to Jordan. The implications of this fact are extensive, and ramifications for the kibbutz are clear and decisive. I am surprised you are not aware of this issue."

The Civil Administration says the Waqf lands lie within private land in the West Bank, so information about them cannot be disclosed.

Etkes, the settlements researcher, called such explanations "another despicable attempt by the Civil Administration to conceal from the public another chapter in the story of land appropriation in the West Bank, and its transfer to settlers."

Daniel Bar-On