(15 November 2017) Israel starts implementing Greater Jerusalem plans in al-Walaja

PR/EN/151117/55

Israeli forces issued a notice on Sunday 12 November 2017, informing residents of the West Bank village of al-Walaja about plans to move a nearby military checkpoint closer to the village, in order for its location to be consistent with the Greater Jerusalem plans. This military checkpoint is as far as West Bank ID holders can go without an Israeli-issued permit, and moving it further into the West Bank will significantly affect Palestinian residents’ access to their lands on the other side of the relocated checkpoint.  

If the checkpoint is relocated, farmers and landowners will lose access to their lands located near the Ein Yael spring – current location of the checkpoint. Moreover, the move will also leave the Ein Haniya spring inaccessible to West Bank ID holders. This spring is an important natural resource and source of water for the residents of the village of al-Walaja. 

Residents of al-Walaja were informed of these plans by a piece of paper [originally in Hebrew, Arabic translation here, English translation by BADIL staff available here] left at the village, which also indicated that those landowners affected by the measure have been given 15 days to present objections or appeal the decision. Residents claim that moving the checkpoint will result in the de facto confiscation of around 1200 dunums [1.2 km2] of land from residents.

“Moving the checkpoint will affect all the residents and landowners. They will be unable to access their land, to plant on it or to cultivate it, which means depriving them of their land. Recently, al-Walajah has faced massive attacks by Israeli soldiers, through home demolitions, demolition notices, denial of building permits, and multiple arrests. The village is facing unusual attacks today.”

Firas al-Atrash, resident of al-Walaja and member of the Local Council                

A Step towards Annexation

The move would constitute an additional step towards the annexation of the West Bank by Israel. Establishing this new fact on the ground would place all the lands located between the future and current location of the checkpoint under full Israeli control. Under international law, it is prohibited for the occupying power to assume sovereignty over occupied territory and to incorporate it into its own state.

This measure would also make it easier for Israel to deny Palestinians access to those lands, which results in  land confiscation. This method of confiscation usually takes place when Israel controls the land by applying numerous measures that seriously hinder or deny the landowner’s use and access of the land or property. Such limitations can come in the form of laws or Israeli military orders that designate parcels of land as closed military zones, nature reserves, national parks, or seam zones, for example. The owners are subsequently forbidden from benefiting from or accessing that land, even though the official ownership has not been transferred. This de facto confiscation is in most cases utilized as an intermediary step that eventually results in de jure confiscation, when the transfer of ownership does occur.

The seizure of property by the occupying power is only permissible under strict criteria: that the seizure is absolutely necessary for military operations.[1] Under Article 23 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, it is forbidden “to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.” Likewise, Article 46 of the aforementioned Regulations affirms that private property must be respected and that it cannot be confiscated.[2] The occupying power cannot, moreover, exploit the natural resources in occupied territory to increase its own material wealth,[3] or for the benefit of the colonizers residing in the territory. These acts would amount to the crime of pillage – extensive exploitation – which is prohibited under international law.[4] The extensive appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention as per Article 147 and also amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. 
 
 
[1] Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, art. 53, 12 August 1949;  International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Rule 50 and 51 of Customary IHL.
[2] International Conferences, Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and Its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, art. 46, 18 October 1907, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4374cae64.html 
[3] Case Concerning Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda), Request for the Indication of Provisional Measures, 2000 ICJ (July 1).
[4] ICRC, Rule 52 of Customary IHL: Pillage, n.d., available at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customaryihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule52