The army maintains its hold on a piece of Palestinian land it seized in the late 1970s. Here’s the catch: the land has been abandoned for nearly a decade.
By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz
Two weeks ago, the council chiefs of the West Bank villages of Jaloud, Douma and Qusra appealed to Israel’s High Court of Justice, demanding that the hundreds of dunams of land seized by the IDF in 1978 be returned to their rightful owners. The IDF built a military camp (Jaloud camp) on a small part of the land, yet it has been abandoned for many years. Now is the time to revoke Seizure Order T/5/78.
Readers of this blog are already familiar with the practice of land seizure by military order: we dealt with it in the case of the Dura Al Qara seizure (of which the Dreinoff houses affair is a descendent of): a seizure that was on its face illegal, as an IDF officer specifically wrote in the seizure order that it is to be hidden from the Palestinian residents. We also dealt with this very seizure practice when we managed to return the land taken from the residents of Burkeh for the purposes of building the settlement Homesh.
Military seizure have served, time after time, not to fulfill a military need but for settlement building. The government stopped using this procedure after the Elon Moreh ruling (the film “The Law in These Parts” has some interesting things to sayon the ruling), despite holding a significant part of the land seized prior to that ruling.
What is a military seizure? First, we must differentiate it from confiscation. International law prohibits an occupying power – the West Bank, even according to the government of Israel, is under belligerent occupation – from confiscating property or equipment of the residents of the occupied territory. On the other hand, it demands that the military commander protect the property of protected persons. The High Court has maintained, time and again, this double duty: to refrain from harming — and instead protect — private property.
And yet, international law permits the military commander to seize private property when there is a pressing need to do so. If you are contending with a counter-attack or an invasion, you may seize land to use it for defense. But the rights of the owner do not expire: when the emergency is over, the property is to be returned to its owners.