For the first time in three years, the Israeli state confiscated uncultivated land in the West Bank last week, to “legalize” a nearby settlement outpost. Acting on orders from the government, the Civil Administration declared 189 dunams of land belonging to the Palestinian village of Karyut to be state land, so as to retroactively “legalize” houses and a road in the Hayovel neighborhood of the settlement of Eli. The expropriation was carried out under an Ottoman land law dating from 1858 that allows uncultivated land to be declared state land. Hayovel was built on Karyut lands in 1998 as a temporary outpost, and later permanent houses and an access road were added.
After the Peace Now and Yesh Din organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice against the construction in 2005 and 2009, the Civil Administration reviewed the land’s legal status. Since Jordan, which ruled the West Bank from 1948-67, had never officially entered the lands in its registry, the Civil Administration reclassified them as under review. This meant that any place that was still cultivated at the time of the review would remain in the hands of its original Palestinian owners, but the rest could be declared state land.
In 2004, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised US President George W. Bush to stop this practice, and this promise was later reiterated by his successor, Ehud Olmert. In his speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We have no intention to build new settlements or set aside land for new settlements. But there is a need to have people live normal lives and let mothers and fathers raise their children like everyone in the world.” (Ha’aretz, July 8)