The unlawful construction and expansion of settlements and their related infrastructure on Palestinian land are a defining feature of the Israeli occupation. Tens of thousands of Palestinian homes and properties have been demolished and at least 100,000 hectares of land had been seized for Israel’s settlement and agricultural projects.
Prior to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Zionist interests, largely represented by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and its subsidiary, Himanuta, had already begun to privately purchase Palestinian land. This effort benefited from the many inefficiencies and loopholes of a legal system that was transitioning from Ottoman to British hands. The Nakba or The Catastrophe of 1947-1949 further facilitated this process when Palestinian Arabs were forced to flee from their lands and properties. This gave rise to the opportunity for their unlawful seizures and repossessions by the state of Israel.
After the formation of Israel in 1948, its legal structures were systematically developed to legitimise Israeli ownership and repossession of the Palestinian Arab lands and properties that had been confiscated or continued to be seized in the coming decades. Such efforts eventually affected the land that was held under customary rights by the Bedouin herder communities in the desert of Al-Naqab and other local peasant communities.
As a consequence of the militarised Israeli occupation of Palestine; its unlawful construction and expansion of settlements; and their related infrastructure on Palestinian land, tens of thousands of Palestinian homes and properties have been demolished and at least 100,000 hectares of land have been seized for Israel’s settlement and agricultural projects.
In the process, Palestinian farmers have also faced various discrimination by Israel, in particular pertaining to their freedom of movement and their rights to freely access their own farming land and to freely carry out basic agricultural operations such as ploughing and the construction of irrigation systems.
In all, Israel is estimated to have claimed close to 93 per cent of Palestinian land. This includes 80 per cent of Muslim waqf property as its de facto state land, along with uncultivated desert land, held under local customary rights by the Bedouin community. This has led to the scarcity of land, resulting in frequent land disputes and social conflicts, even amongst the Palestinians themselves. Today, 78 per cent of the Palestinian land has been claimed as part of the state of Israel while the West Bank and the Gaza strip take up 21 per cent and 1 per cent of the territory, respectively.
Community Resistance and Mobilisation
The Palestinian Environmental NGO’s Network (PENGON)/Friends of the Earth Palestine have been strategically working on the protection of the rights, interests and well-being of Palestinians. PENGON has been involved in activities that:
- Continuously raise awareness on the rights of the vulnerable and marginalised Palestinian Arab community at local, national and international level,
- Empower vulnerable and marginalised communities through supporting community resistance against the Israeli decision of constructing the apartheid wall; in developing their own community infrastructure; and in carrying out their own efforts to rehabilitate their damaged lands,
- Highlight the continued land rights violations of the Palestinian Arab community through various documentation activities and media tools, publicising issues which affect the access of the community to water, natural resources and a clean and safe environment.
The following are the transformative political and legislative measures that can ensure greater protection of community land rights, the prevention of land grabs and human rights violations and the sustainable management of natural resources in Palestine:
- An increased focus on the development of legal actions against unlawful Israeli occupation of Palestinian Arab lands and properties,
- The carrying out of advocacy and lobby activities at regional and international levels,
- The continuation of activities to raise the awareness among the Palestinian Arab community on the legitimacy of their land rights.
As the occupation of Palestinian land by Israeli forces, and the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian Arab community are considered to be human rights conflicts on an international level, the way forward is largely dependent on the dynamics of international politics.