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After 46 years of occupation, land confiscation renders Israeli law obsolete

Since Israel occupied the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, it has continued to engage in legal acrobatics to confiscate Palestinian homes and land. In doing so, the state is actively erasing its internationally recognized border – the Green Line.

A member of the Ghaith family stands among the rubble of his house after it was demolished by Israeli authorities in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of At Tur on April 29, 2013. (photo: Guest photographer Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

One thing has become abundantly clear about Israeli policy when it comes to land: first it acts, only later giving its legal stamp of approval. This is essentially how the state was first established and built itself up, and is the story of how all settlements are born to this day in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Make your presence known on a piece of land for long enough, get a trailer, set up a makeshift synagogue, wait until the state provides electricity and water and it is only a matter of time before it is recognized, de facto or officially. The chances that a court will order that an outpost-turned-settlement be removed are very slim (and even slimmer that the state will enforce such a legal decision), as is evident from the half-a-million settlers who live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem today, and the 100 or so outposts that are considered illegal even under Israeli law.

Does it really matter, therefore, what the courts, the attorney general or the High Court of Justice have to say about it, one way or another. For on the one hand, they are committed to the ethics of law, but on the other hand, are bodies that serve a state which prioritizes Jewish rights in every aspect of life.

Israel’s High Court recently asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to explain his stance on the state’s confiscation of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem. His answer was that it is a-okay.  The 1950 Absentee Property Law was designed to give the state the legal tools to confiscate Palestinian refugees’ property. The refugees, from the 1948 war, were literally “absent” from their homes at the time – a very fitting criteria considering it was a time of war, during which people fled and were forced out.

The way Israel uses the law is kind of like stealing someone’s seat if they get up for a second to go to the bathroom. The state takes advantage of a vulnerable moment in time to claim something as their own – forever. It’s not that Israel has any more of a legal right to that seat, it just seized the opportunity and then decided to build a legal framework to justify it. Israel’s obvious political ambitions in East Jerusalem make the legal aspect of such confiscation totally arbitrary in nature. Does it matter whether or not it is deemed legal or not? The fact is Israel is taking over more and more Palestinian land, for use by Jews.

This is why two former attorneys general ruled that the law specifically cannot be applied in East Jerusalem. In the eastern half of the city, which was a contiguous part of the West Bank until 1967, the lines between modern day Greater Jerusalem and the West Bank are arbitrary.  Many Palestinians who were living in the West Bank and owned property in East Jerusalem could not be present to maintain their ownership. (For details on the history of this law and its application, read Ir Amim’s comprehensive report).

But despite these legal opinions, given in 1968 and in 2005, and the 1970 amendment to the law limiting its application in East Jerusalem, the legal confiscation goes on. A large portion of today’s Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City was made possible over the last 30 years through the Absentee Property Law.

So, as far as I’m concerned, the attorney general’s kosher certification of the continued confiscation of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem is just a formality Israel needs in order to continue acting as it wishes. The policy is just as arbitrary as was Israel’s decision to annex 70 square kilometers of the West Bank into Jerusalem two weeks after the Six-Day War in 1967, a decision that no other state in the world recognizes as legal to this day.

Today, Palestinians mark the consequences of the Six-Day War, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem. By erasing any trace of the pre-1967 borders through such legal theater surrounding the confiscation of Palestinian land, Israel’s government is pushing Palestinians to focus their national struggle on one year: 1948 — the Nakba. This focus has brought about a shift toward liberating all of mandatory Palestine, instead of only those territories occupied 46 years ago today.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. ibriham ali

      We tried to kills all the Israelis in ’48,’67, & ’73. So they took our land when they beat us. That makes a lot of sense to me. That’s what countries have done for millenia.

      Reply to Comment
      • un2here

        Your comment would have been so much more convincing if it hadn’t been that history unfolded the other way around. Please reconsider, because when your only defense is telling us a straight lie? you don’t have any defense, at all!

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          A straight lie is to claim that Arabs did not tried to kill all Israelis in 48, 67 and 73.

          Reply to Comment
          • mike panzone

            i think it’s true, they did want to kill all the israelis in ’48, ’67, and ’73. but it goes back further, all the way to the turn of the century. the arabs did want to kill all the jews and zionists even then because they were afraid they would be outnumbered by these european immigrants with their land-of-the-jews ideology and they would either be run out or become second class citizens in their own homes. if those early arabs could have foreseen the future and could see that is exactly what hashappened, i’m sure they would have murdered every jew that stepped off the boat.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >if those early arabs could have foreseen the future and could see that is exactly what hashappened, i’m sure they would have murdered every jew that stepped off the boat.

            Until after WWII it was rather unforeseeable – there was no power to create significant Jewish presence in Palestine. And after WWII it had became a bit too late – holocaust survivors and WWII veterans were tough and mean.

            Reply to Comment
      • sh

        IvriHam makes sense only to those to whom purim-class hasbara makes sense (and even some of those clowns have lately begun to get wiser).

        Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        Even if we accept the Arabs started the conflict, only barbarians (those who reject the rule of law) believe acquiring territory by force is okay for either party. There was popular revulsion in most of the democratic world against the USSR for its satellite regimes in e. Europe. Reagan never said the USSR was occupying E. Germany in self-defense; he said “tear down this wall”. Regardless of what the Arab states had planned in ’48, Israel had no right to expel half its (non-Jewish) citizens and acquire territory outside the partition with the intent of further expulsions. This was done so it could be a Jewish state.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >Even if we accept the Arabs started the conflict

          Even? Arabs were massacring and oppressing Jews in Palestine and elsewhere until after WWII.

          Benny Morris writes that one symbol of Jewish degradation was the phenomenon of stone-throwing at Jews by Muslim children. Morris quotes a 19th century traveler: “I have seen a little fellow of six years old, with a troop of fat toddlers of only three and four, teaching [them] to throw stones at a Jew, and one little urchin would, with the greatest coolness, waddle up to the man and literally spit upon his Jewish gaberdine. To all this the Jew is obliged to submit; it would be more than his life was worth to offer to strike a Mahommedan.”

          Oppression and racism are most wide-spread in Arab world, due to numerous reasons which are out of the scope of this post.

          >only barbarians (those who reject the rule of law)

          So all criminals are barbarians? Nonsense.

          >believe acquiring territory by force is okay for either party

          Acquirement of territory by force migh be necessary to prevent hostilities, for example, in which case it is somewhat allowed by international law.

          >There was popular revulsion in most of the democratic world against the USSR for its satellite regimes in e. Europe.

          Most of the NATO block, you should have written. And how is it relevant to aquisition of the territory by force?

          >Reagan never said the USSR was occupying E. Germany in self-defense;

          Reagan was not particularly bright or educated. As of USSR occupation of E. Europe – it was not in defence, but rather remainders of the failed attempt by commies to occupie entire Europe.

          >he said “tear down this wall”.

          And also he had said:

          “Well, I learned a lot….I went down to (Latin America) to find out from them and (learn) their views. You’d be surprised. They’re all individual countries”

          “I don’t know. I’ve never played a governor.”

          “Facts are stupid things.”

          “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles.”

          Quoting an idiot does not add much credibility.

          >Regardless of what the Arab states had planned in ’48, Israel had no right to expel half its (non-Jewish) citizens

          Nonsense. Israel’s non-Jewish population is identical to those of other Arab states and was planning pretty much the same.

          >and acquire territory outside the partition with the intent of further expulsions. This was done so it could be a Jewish state.

          Yes. Since Arabs had proven that they had no intention to live in peace, Jews had to win the war.

          Reply to Comment
      • mike panzone

        if your defense for taking land in war is “because it has been done for millenia”, then genocide, expulsion, and exile is acceptable as well. the romans can then be excused for destroying the jews and exiling them to the far corners of the empire.

        Reply to Comment
    2. The Trespasser

      The Green Line is not a border of any kind, and never been such.

      It could have became a border, should Palestinians Arabs had agreed to declare a state, but they did not – apparently because they don’t really need a state.

      Reply to Comment
    3. rsgengland

      The West Bank acquired that name only after 1948, when the Jordanians attacked, occupied and annexed the area.
      Pre 1948, this area had been called Judea and Samaria.
      Jerusalem has only ever been divided once, 1948-1967, during the Jordanian occupation.
      The Green Line is an arbitrary cease fire line, that has never been recognised by any Arab state as anything other than that.
      Even though a few Arab countries have recognized Israels existence, the Green Line has never been formalized as a border.

      Reply to Comment

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