In a letter received by Adalah on 14 March 2010, the Israeli Ministry of Justice claimed that Israel is fully entitled to sell and transfer ownership rights to land previously leased to Jewish settlers in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. According to the ministry, the sale of the land is legal since Israeli law was applied to East Jerusalem in accordance with Article 1 of the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel (1980), and the Golan Heights according to Article 1 of the Golan Heights Law (1981). The ministry then concluded that, “a state's sovereignty is one of the fundamental concepts of the international legal system, and the State of Israel has the right to exercise it vis-à-vis the territories in which it has applied its law, jurisdiction and administration.”
The Justice Ministry's response was sent in reply to a letter submitted by Adalah in January 2010 to the former Attorney General (AG) Menachem Mazuz. In the letter, Adalah demanded that the AG intervene to prevent the sale of properties in East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights to private individuals or institutions, in violation of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In the letter, Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara argued that the new Israel land reform law enacted by the Knesset in August 2009 allows for the privatization of land owned or controlled by the state, the Development Authority and Jewish National Fund (JNF). This includes land on which the Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem are built.
Today, approximately 195,000 Jewish settlers live in East Jerusalem on around 25,000 dunums of land confiscated from Palestinians. There are 18,000 settlers living in the Golan Heights, 6,400 in the town of Katzrin and the rest dispersed among 32 small settlements that extend over the majority of the Golan Heights.
In the letter, Adalah stressed that East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights should be removed from the areas where the law applies, given their status as occupied territories under international law. This action should be taken in spite of Israel's attempts to alter the legal status of these areas through the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, which stipulates that, “The whole and united City of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” and the Golan Heights Law, which specifies that “The law, jurisdiction and administration of the State shall apply in the area of the Golan Heights.” Adalah stressed that following the enactment of these Basic Laws, the United Nations issued resolutions denouncing them, and reiterating that both areas remain occupied territory to which international law continues to apply. The International Court of Justice's advisory opinion on the Wall delivered in 2004 also reaffirmed that East Jerusalem is occupied territory.
In response to the Ministry of Justice's letter, Adalah emphasized that the privatization of this land would constitute their final confiscation from their Palestinian owners, and preclude any possibility of their restoration within the framework of a future agreement. Adalah also stressed that Israel's privatization and transfer of ownership of land in the Occupied Territories under the land reform law constitutes a gross breach of international humanitarian law.
For more information, see Adalah's Position Paper on the Privatization of the Lands of the Settlements on the Golan Heights and in East Jerusalem please click here.
See also: Akiva Eldar, “Justice Ministry: Israel can sell confiscated East Jerusalem land,” Haaretz English Edition, 15 March 2010