Adalah to Attorney General and Custodian of Absentee Property: Israel's Sale of Palestinian Refugee Property Violates Israeli and International Law

Adalah Launches New Internet-Based Interactive Map and Database on Land Expropriations by Israel

Adalah: "Selling these properties constitutes the final expropriation of the right to property of Palestinian refugees, despite the special legal, historical and political status of these properties."

(Haifa, Israel) Adalah sent a letter to the Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz; the Director-General of the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), Yaron Bibi; the General Director of Amidar (a state-owned and state-run housing company), Yaakov Brosh; and Ronen Baruch, the Custodian of Absentees' Property in May 2009 demanding the cancellation of tenders issued by the ILA for the sale of Palestinian refugee property in Israel. Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara submitted the letter.

Recently, the ILA has been publishing tenders for the sale of "absentee" properties held by the Development Authorities of municipalities such as Nazareth, Haifa, Led (Lod), Akka (Acre), Rosh Pina and Beit She'an in Israel. In 2007, the ILA issued 96 tenders; in 2008, 106 tenders; and to date in 2009, 80 tenders.

The Custodian for Absentees’ Property transferred these properties to the Development Authority; these properties are classified as absentees’ property under the Absentees’ Property Law - 1950. The Absentees' Property Law was the main legal instrument used by Israel to take possession of the land belonging to the internal and external Palestinian refugees. Under this law, any property belonging to absentees was taken and passed to the Custodian of Absentee Property for guardianship of the properties until a political solution for the refugees was reached. This law provides a very broad definition of who is an “absentee”; it encompasses Palestinians who fled or who were expelled to neighboring countries during and after the War of 1948. During the War of 1948, as many as 800,000 Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee outside the borders of the new state of Israel.

In the letter , Attorney Bishara argued that selling these absentee properties to private individuals is illegal under Israeli law. It contradicts the essence of the law which provides that the Custodian of Absentee Properties is the temporary guardian of these properties, until the status of the Palestinian refugees is resolved. "These tenders also contradict the Basic Law: Israel Lands – 1960 which prohibits the sale of lands defined as "Israeli lands", which include, among others, the properties of the Development Authority," she emphasized in the letter. She further argued that the sale of Palestinian refugee properties contradicts international humanitarian law which stipulates the need to respect the right of private property and explicitly prohibits the final expropriation of private property following the termination of warfare.

This latest step furthers Israel’s continued denial of the rights of the Palestinian refugees, and marks the final stages of an aggressive policy of creating facts on the ground that will frustrate any attempts to solve the Palestinian refugee problem. By selling these properties to private individuals, legal or political remedies for the refugees become increasingly difficult to implement. This measure is to the ultimate disadvantage of all parties involved; it further entrenches political discontent in order to profit from the refugees’ plight.

New internet-based interactive map and detailed database of Israel's land expropriations

Today, 22 June 2009, Adalah released an internet-based interactive map and database, the first of its kind, which provides detailed information on land expropriations by Israel since the establishment of the state in 1948. The database is contained within an interactive map of Mandatory Palestine, which is divided first into districts and then into all localities within each district. Information on population and land ownership in 1945, the total amount of Palestinian refugee property transferred to Israel, and the land expropriations carried out under the Land Acquisitions Law – 1953 in towns and villages is provided.

The massive transfer of land inside Israel was executed primarily through two main laws. The first is the Land Acquisition Law (Validation of Acts and Compensation) – 1953, pursuant to which 1.2 - 1.3 million dunams of land were expropriated from the Arab population. The second law is the Absentees’ Property Law – 1950 under which all of the property owned, possessed or used by the Palestinian refugees was transferred to the State of Israel. Assessments by Israel, Palestinian institutions and UN agencies as to the extent of the properties taken pursuant to this law range from around 2 million dunams to 16 million dunams of land.

Adalah's database gathers primary source information from Israeli government, Palestinian and UN sources. The database was prepared by Adalah's lawyers and planning professionals, who collected and reviewed the original land confiscation orders in Hebrew from the official government gazette. The database is intended as a resource for researchers, academics, the original landowners, and anyone else who is interested in the history of land ownership in Palestine from the founding of the State of Israel and until today. It provides the information in an accessible interactive map, available in three languages (Arabic, Hebrew and English).

Data indicates that in 1945, when the total territory of Mandatory Palestine stood at approximately 26 million dunams, the Arab population comprised about 69% as compared with the Jewish population which stood at around 31%. At that time, the Arab population owned approximately 48% of the total territory and the Jewish population owned 6% of the land; another 6% was publicly owned and 40% was uncultivated land in the Be’er el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) district with indeterminate ownership. Today, approximately 93% of the land in Israel (excluding the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967) is owned by the state and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (The Jewish National Fund), a quasi-state entity. Only 3-3.5% of the land in Israel is currently owned by the Arab population.