Israel’s “Mother of all settlements” dies

Plia Albeck, legal advisor to the Israeli government and known as the “mother of settlements,” died Sept. 27 at age 68, according to the Oct. 7 edition of New York’s weekly Jewish Press. In 24 years as head of the Civil Department of the State Prosecutor’s Office, Albeck, an ultra-orthodox Jew, used her expertise to outline the legal framework under which Israel would seize land to build its settlements in the occupied West Bank. Under this framework, 1.5 million dunams, or approximately 370 acres—26% of the West Bank—was declared “state land,” in order to be exploited for building Jewish settlements. Albek signed the documents that determined if privately held Palestinian land could be taken over by the Israeli government.

After 1967, the Israeli government assumed control of some 700,000 dunums of the West Bank that were recognized as state land by the Jordanian government. In 1979, in the wake of the Israeli High Court ruling that the settlement of Elon Moreh had not been established “legally,” then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin announced that further Jewish settlements would only be built on “state” land. It was current Israeli High Court justice Aharon Barak, attorney general at the time, who first ordered Albeck to take a helicopter ride over the area designated to become the settlement of Ariel to determine if it was “state” land.

Some 70% of privately held land in the West Bank had never been registered prior to Israel’s occupation in 1967. Under Albeck’s direction, all land in the West Bank was surveyed to decide whether or not it was cultivated. If Albeck determined the land had not been cultivated for ten years, or “abandoned” for three, the land was considered to be “ownerless,” and as such belonged to the state. According to old Ottoman law, any land beyond 2.5 kilometeres from the outermost buildings of the nearest village, or not within shouting distance of the nearest village, also belonged to the state. At first, Albeck toured sites after the Israeli government had decided to build settlements there. Then, she began to review sites before the government had even slated them for settlement. Finally, she went to scout out “potential state land” that the state was not even considering building on.

The Jewish Press claims that “Albeck saw herself as scrupulouly protecting the rights of Palestinian farmers to thier private property” even while “furthering the Zionist enterprise by allowing the state to build Jewish settlements.”

Asked in a Haaretz interview a year ago if she agreed with the policy she executed, Albeck replied, “If I had disagreed, I couldn’t have carried it out. I never considered the Green Line sacred. It does not appear in the Bible.”

“There are more than 100 settlements that were built because of my legal opinion,” Albeck said in the same interview. “When I visited them I always felt like they were my children.”

Albeck was fired in 1993 after giving her opinion on a bill calling for compensation for Arab victims of Jewish terror, which was submitted by a Jewish member of the Knesset. “It is hard not to get the impression from [Meretz] MK [Haim] Oron’s letter that the State of Israel is not precious to him and that he does not understand that as a Knesset member he is obliged to be loyal to the State of Israel,” Albeck wrote. (NY Jewish Press, Oct.7, Ha’aretz, Sept. 27)

See also: Land Grab: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank, B’Tselem, May 2002

See our last post on Israeli politics and land struggles in the West Bank.