NGO Calls NYT Bluff on 'Annexation of Occupied Land'

As the Times decries Israel's appropriation of 'occupied land', rights group Regavim explains why it follows Israeli and international law.

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Tova Dvorin,

Judea and Samaria (file)
Judea and Samaria (file)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The legality of Israel's declaring about 4,000 dunams (close to 1,000 acres) of land as "state land" in Gush Etzion is undisputed, rights group Regavim noted Thursday - despite the actions of leftist groups, the media, and the international community to defame Israel as "annexing" land claimed to be "occupied territory." 

Sunday's announcement sparked widespread condemnation from Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbasthe US, and the European Union (EU). 

Meanwhile, several media sources - including the New York Times - labeled the move as 'annexation of occupied land,' or have accused Israel of violating property rights in the deal. 

But according to the Regavim bulletin, the plot of land in question is utterly unoccupied - by Palestinian Arabs or Israelis - despite false reports of it being privately owned by local Arabs. 

Moreover, the land has been Israel's since 1967, it says. 

"In 1967 all public lands including this piece in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria - ed.] came under Israeli control," the rights group stated. "As an extra precaution, to ensure the protection of private property rights, the authorities put in place an additional process to double and triple check that no private land was mistakenly included." 

"This process of investigation and final declaration is what the government announced recently," it added. "The declaration does not change the status of the land."

Like anything else, it says, the issue at hand is a matter of location - and the Gush Etzion region is a prime candidate for Israeli building.  

"The land is situated in the Eztion bloc which is acknowledged and widely accepted to be included on the Israeli side of a future land swap in any negotiated peace agreement," Regavim said. "The land straddles the 1949 Armistice lines and is in Area C under full Israeli administration and security control based on 1993 Oslo Accords."

As for the dedication of the land for Jewish communities, Regavim noted that the appropriation is fitting given the surrounding communities. 

"Despite being in the general vicinity of Bethlehem, the land is closest to a number of Jewish communities such as Beitar Illit, Alon Shvut and Kibbutz Kfar Etzion and does not infringe on any Palestinian communities or towns in the area."

Even before the establishment of the state of Israel, Jews lived in the land, the NGO added: "Pre-1948 there were Jewish communities in the Etzion bloc that were destroyed by the Jordanian Arab Legion and Egyptian Army in Israel’s Independence War."

Public vs. private property rights

The statement also noted that criticism over the land, whatever its legal status, is unprecedented - as is all criticism over land in Judea and Samaria on which Jews live. 

"As a general rule, in Western countries there is either public land or private land," it said. "Thus the concept of ownerless land is not familiar."

"As a rule, a sovereign power owns all land that is not privately owned," it continued. "This is based on Ottoman land law and British land law and is also enshrined in Israeli land law." 

Regavim's premise regarding 'ownerless land' still takes into account the issue of private property, however.

"The process of final declaration as proscribed by the authorities is in place as an extra protection of private property rights," it said. "As such, in the case where the sovereign power wants to advance building plans in an area where the land registry record is not complete it has to do an in-depth survey of the land by law, to ensure 1000% that the land is not privately owned."

"After decades of due process the land was surveyed and considered wasteland/ownerless (see above more info on issue of ownerless), yet even so a 45 day window of appeal is available by law," it continued, noting than an additional 175,000 acres across Judea and Samaria are still waiting to undergo the surveying process. 

Regavim concluded that, by all means, the appropriation is fully legal - and there is ample evidence of this in Israel's own documentation.

"The Israeli Supreme Court ruling of Alon Moreh 1979, makes illegal the expropriation of private land for the establishment of civilian communities," it declared. "However Israeli law is very clear about the rights of Israel to appropriate/register surveyed wasteland to be used for civilian use."