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.

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

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.