Adalah: The afforestation work by the Israel Land Authority and the Jewish National Fund on Bedouin lands in the Naqab is illegal and must be stopped immediately

On 27 January 2022, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent a letter to the Israel Land Authority (ILA(, the Minister of Housing and Construction and the Attorney General demanding that all afforestation activities in the northern Naqab (Negev) aimed at "protecting the land from trespassers” be stopped immediately. Adalah argued that the afforestation activities such as those carried out in recent weeks by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on the lands of the Al-Atrash Bedouin tribe near Sa'wa, which sparked vast protests in the Naqab in the last weeks, is illegal.


CLICK HERE to read Adalah’s letter (Hebrew)


In the letter, Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany referenced past correspondence on this issue with the ILA and with the AG’s office. In June 2020, in response to a letter sent by Adalah to the ILA concerning afforestation activities in the area of the village Khirbit al-Watan, the ILA claimed that these plantings have been carried out for more than 30 years and are "agricultural, temporary and reversible". In an exchange of letters between Adalah and the ILA and AG’s office from 2010-2012, the stated purpose of the plantings is to “gain a firm grip of the area and prevent ‘invasions’".


Adalah argued that the ILA lacks the authority to carry out the afforestation. Its actions also circumvent the statutory arrangements designed to deal with “invasions” as they claim exist. Moreover, the ILA often carries out these plantings on lands under disputed ownership. The determination that a person using the lands is a “trespasser” is of a judicial nature, and shall only be reached by courts, and not by the inter-ministerial committee dealing with plantings as it currently stands. The committee permits the ILA to put facts on the ground in the absence of any requisite judicial processes.


Furthermore, Adalah argued that these plantings are contrary to Israeli law. The ILA classifies its work in the Naqab as "agricultural plantings" rather than afforestation, which requires permits and land planning. However, the stated purpose of the plantings in the Naqab is to prevent "trespassing” and has no agricultural purpose. Even the type of trees planted by the ILA in the Naqab appears in the JNF forests' tree definition. Thus, the ILA’s classification of the afforestation activities as “agricultural planting” is aimed solely at bypassing the required authority and legal process and thus, is illegal.


Adalah emphasized that the inter-ministerial committee’s decisions dealing with these plantings are made without transparency. The "Scoop Committee" was established following a petition by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel to the Israeli Supreme Court. Information about the committee’s members, its mandate, and its decisions are not publicly available. As a result, people who may be adversely affected by the committee’s decisions cannot challenge them as they are only informed at the time of execution. This conduct, contrary to all the principles of good administration, violates the right to a fair trial and the right to property of the Bedouin residents who claim ownership of the lands on which the JNF and the ILA are planting trees. Therefore, Adalah also demanded access to all of the committee’s decisions and the minutes of its meetings, and that the committee’s future decisions be made available to the public.


Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany added:


“Afforestation in the Naqab through the JNF is a tool used by the Israeli government to continue to expropriate lands belonging to Bedouin residents and serves to foster unbearable living conditions. The practice of planting forests to prevent Palestinians from returning to their homes is not new; many JNF's forests were planted on top of Palestinian villages destroyed in the 1948 Nakba and on lands of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab. The excuse of afforestation or the establishment of nature reserves is used to limit the development of Arab villages and to "preserve" the land for the establishment of Israeli Jewish villages. The ILA is attempting to exploit a “legal loophole” by claiming, that this time around, it is all about agricultural plantings rather than afforestation.”