COHRE-BADIL Study on Israel's Land Regime and Press Conference in Geneva
EMBARGOED until 9:00 am Geneva Time (GMT + 1 Hour) Wednesday 11 May 2005
Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing Has Made a Two-State Solution Impossible
Says New Study
An international human rights group warns that a two-state solution to the 57 year Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been made a practical impossibility due to Israel's continuing expropriation of Palestinian property and denying Palestinian refugees the right to recover their original homes and lands.
This is one of the main conclusions of "Ruling Palestine: A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine", a new report released by the independent Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. It reveals in stark detail how Zionist leaders, and later successive Israeli Governments, manipulated key Ottoman and British laws and the Israeli legal system to dispossess Palestinians of their land and property. The report clearly documents how Israel has built a domestic legal framework which seeks to legitimise what are clearly discriminatory land and housing policies.
If land confiscations continue and if what Israel refers to as its "security barrier" is completed as planned, Palestinian land within the occupied West Bank and Gaza will be reduced to less than eight percent of the territory comprising Mandate Palestine.
At the time of Israel's establishment in 1948, the Jewish population owned less than ten percent of the land. Today, these figures are almost precisely reversed, with Israel asserting effective military control throughout the entire territory of Mandate Palestine, and owning, using or controlling nearly 90% of the land within both Israel and the Occupied Territories.
COHRE's Executive Director, Scott Leckie said: "Our research reveals that Israeli law, far from providing impartial protection and equal treatment to all those that it affects, has been fundamental to the expropriation of Palestinian land and property since the State of Israel was unilaterally declared in 1948. Israeli laws designed to lay legal claim to the lands and property of 'absentees' - the Israeli euphemism for forcibly displaced Palestinian refugees - have permitted the confiscation of Palestinian lands, and their transfer to Israeli control, on a massive scale."
"In the period 1948-49, the formation of Israel was followed by more than 30 separate military operations by Jewish-Israeli forces, which led to the flight or expulsion of over 800,000 Palestinians and the destruction of 531Palestinian towns and villages. The calculated theft of Palestinian lands through both legal means and military aggression, as well as widespread housing demolitions and the imposition of apartheid-like laws by Israel, are difficult to see as anything other than a cruel form of ethnic cleansing", Leckie said.
Today, more than five million Palestinian refugees continue to be prevented from returning to their homes and recovering their land and properties.
Although millions of refugees throughout the world have returned to their original homes in recent years, as the cases of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, South Africa, Mozambique and Kosovo demonstrate, Israel remains steadfastly opposed to Palestinian refugees asserting their recognised rights to land, housing and property restitution.
"Paradoxically, if Israel were willing to return confiscated land to refugees this could be a comparatively simple process contrasted with restitution programs elsewhere. Most of these lands remain under the public control of the Israeli State and have not been transferred to private hands, large portions of the land confiscated since 1948 remain empty and virtually all Palestinian refugee families retain their original land and property titles and records proving their ownership rights", Leckie said.
Ruling Palestine shows that by 1949 Israel had seized some 20,500 sq km of lands in Mandate Palestine using laws designed to legitimize the progressive 'nationalization' of land and property. Of these lands, Palestinians had individually or collectively owned some 90% (nearly 18,850 sq km) of which about 85% (some 16,000 sq km) had belonged to the depopulated Palestinian villages.
"Although the United States routinely supports the rights of refugees throughout the world to recover their former lands, homes and properties, it refuses to recognize that Palestinian refugees should also enjoy their
legitimate property rights. The hypocrisy of the US stance which explicitly denies the property rights of Palestinian refugees is blatant and unjustifiable if terms such as human rights and the rule of law are to have
universal application", Leckie added.
The study shows how Israel used the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration (Offences and Jurisdiction) Law to expel 'internal refugees' (Palestinians who were declared absent from their villages at the time of Israel's creation but remained in Palestine). These 'absentees' were effectively defined as infiltrators, and when caught were barred both from their villages and from their own country. More recently, confiscations of Palestinian land between September 2000 and May 2003 are estimated to total more than 848 sq km. Currently, the 1.2 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship (so-called 'Arab Israelis') and constitute about one-fifth of Israel's population own less than three percent of the land.
The report also reveals that the Israeli Government enacted land and property laws in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip which enabled it to take control of an additional 4,700 sq km of land in these areas. Israel's construction of a security wall (planned to encircle the entire West Bank) has severely affected towns such as Qalqilya, Tulkarm, Jenin and surrounding villages. Once completed, the land confiscated due to the construction of the wall will reduce the area of the West Bank by 15%.
"In the last few years, Israel has again used its domestic law" backed with military might to illegally expropriate large amounts of remaining Palestinian lands and property. In so doing, it has violated numerous
international standards. Despite almost universal condemnation by the international community, Israel continues to carry out discriminatory land, housing and property policies and practices which make a sustainable and just peace a practical impossibility", Leckie added.
The report illustrates that, even if a final settlement could be negotiated, a viable Palestinian state would hardly be feasible, given the shortage of available land and infrastructure and the lack of territorial contiguity.
These problems are compounded by the ubiquitous and disruptive presence of hundreds of strategically located Jewish settlements, especially in the West Bank, the territorial stranglehold on annexed East Jerusalem and the splitting of the West Bank into unconnected northern and southern enclaves. Under the controversial E-1 Plan, the huge Ma'ale Adumim settlement is to be expanded and integrated into 'Metropolitan Jerusalem'. This will set the seal on Israel's isolation and control of East Jerusalem and drive a wedge into the Palestinian heartland, creating an uninterrupted Israeli corridor from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea.
Leckie warned, "This new study concludes that what little remains of the Palestinian homeland is disappearing in front of our eyes” it's as if Israel is deliberately erasing it from the map".
"COHRE and BADIL proudly work with a range of Israelis who have begun the painful task of acknowledging the history of land rights abuses by Israel and resultant Palestinian dispossession. As with the end of all enduring conflicts, lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians will only be possible when ordinary Israelis acknowledge past wrongs, embrace the process of reconciliation and overcome their fear of their historic neighbors. We look forward to the day when both sides move beyond the current impasse of
'us vs. them' towards a mutual and equitable future where the rights of both peoples are respected in full", Leckie said. (ends)
Download and Read the Study
For interviews and additional information contact:
COHRE's Media Officer,
Radhika Satkunanathan at tel: +41.22.733.4641, +61.400.899.474 or
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
83 Rue de Montbrillant, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland.
Tel No: +41-22-733-4641
BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
PO Box 728, Bethlehem, Palestine