B’Tselem Study: Israeli ‘state land’ illegally taken from West Bank 16Mar12 March 16, 2012

Ma’an News Agency  -  15 March 2012

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israel has designated some 900,000 dunams of the occupied West Bank as Israeli state land, using procedures that break local and international laws, an Israeli human rights group said Wednesday.

“Large swaths of land have been classified state land and designated for use by settlements, despite the fact that they belong to Palestinian individuals or communities,” according to a new report by B’Tselem.

The study says Palestinian land “was taken from their lawful owners by legal manipulation and in breach of local law and international law alike.”

After an Israeli court ruled the state could not build settlements on private Palestinian land in 1979, Israel’s state attorney office redefined the requirements for designating land state-owned, the study says.

The report reviews Israeli policies in light of relevant laws in the West Bank before it was occupied by Israel in 1967.

B’Tselem says Israel disregarded community rights to land used for grazing, redefined what was classified as ‘cultivated land’ and extended the requirement for continuous cultivation of the land.

Israel’s legal stance increased state land in the West Bank from 527,000 dunums prior to Israel’s occupation, to more than 1.427 million dunams, an expansion of more than 170 percent, the report says.

Under international law, state land does not belong to Israel, and should be used to benefit Palestinians while the West Bank is under military occupation, B’Tselem adds.

“Despite this obligation, the percentage of state land that Israel has designated for Palestinians is negligible. Virtually all state land has been designated for exclusive use by the settlements,” the report notes.

The Israeli rights group says a recent deal to move a settler outpost to state land is thus illegal, calling on the Israeli government to revoke the agreement.

After months of negotiations, on Sunday the government agreed with Migron settlers that they relocate a few kilometers away, to meet a high court ruling that ordered the outpost be removed by by March 31, 2012 as it lies on land with demonstrated Palestinian-ownership.

The families are relocating to another already-established West Bank settlement a few kilometers away.

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