Readers of an Israeli news site may have noticed a rotating Google advertisement written in Arabic on the English-language news website either in the ad banner across the top of the page or along the side column. While ads that may be considered offensive to the readership of any news site can be filtered out when signing up for the Google ad service, sometimes something will fall through the cracks, such as this ad for buying land in the Palestinian Authority (PA). (The site can have Google remove this ad in future.)
Perhaps many non-Arabic-speaking readers just ignored this ad as irrelevant to them. A Hebrew speaker would recognize the English word on the ad – Tabo. This is Turkish for land registry ownership and is used in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Curious readers may click on the link to the Tabo website.
Upon opening the site, they see, in large letters, “Investing in land in Palestine is affordable, profitable, and ethical.” They learn that over 700 families have invested in over 1000 plots of land. In addition, roads have been paved “to facilitate movement and access at a time when Palestine experiences severe movement and access restrictions.” The site does not mention the Israeli “occupation” as the cause of these restrictions but that is implied and would be implicitly understood by most readers.
With each plot measuring one dunam (1000 sq m), this means that 1 million sq m of land have been sold to individuals. On another page, they claim that this land has been saved from the expansion of Israeli settlements.
Of course, Jews need not apply. Palestinian Authortiy law prohibits the sale of land and property to Jews. Torture and severe punishments are administered to the Arab who is caught selling to Jews. The perpetrator can also be sentenced to death, but Abu Mazen (President of the PA) is required to approve that and so far, he has not. There was, however, at least one case in which a suspect “fell” out of a window while being held.
Are these sales legal?
The short answer is, yes. However, this may not strictly be true. The Oslo Accords saw the establishment of the Palestinian Land Authority according to which the PA became responsible for land registration and surveying, and the administration of state land and absentee-owned land in Areas A and B. The Land Authority has apparently been involved in questionable land sales and the courts are unable to keep up with the flood of suits filed following various illegal sales.
Tabo is a private company associated with Union Construction and Investment, one of the largest construction and property development firms in the PA. They have designated a number of areas outside of major cities and towns for development, complete with city planning designs that would rival any well-planned modern residential area in the world. However, are these new developments in the PA-controlled regions, or do they impinge upon Israeli-controlled Area C? If the latter, that would make them illegal.
One such location is outside of Turmus Ayya and the plans can be viewed on the Tabo website. The PA claims that Israel incorporated over 1750 dunams of cultivated land, supposedly belonging to 250 Palestinian farmers from Turmus Ayya, into Shvut Rachel, a nearby settlement, stating that: “The documents date back to the British mandate period and prove their right of ownership.” It is this kind of expropriation that Tabo claims to be fighting.
However, Regavim spokeswoman Naomi Kahn refutes that and remarks that: “All of Shvut Rachel is within municipal blue lines, all state-approved, registered, and legal. There is no way it would have been approved if anyone held tabu on it.” There have been many cases in which Israeli construction within Area C was contested by Palestinian Arabss who claimed land ownership and the courts accepted their claims.
The PA argument that the owners of land confiscated by Israel hold documents dating back to the British mandate period makes no sense given the chaotic state of land ownership files available to them. However, perhaps such a statement "legitimizes" Tabo’s use of the word “ethical” to describe their land sales.
In fact, in determining true ownership when land disputes arise among Arab residents of the PA, the courts seem to rely on Jordanian records. When Jordan illegally occupied Judea and Samaria in 1949 and renamed it The 'West Bank', they distributed land to residents (the king's friends) there with no regard to the land’s previous status. Israel respects Jordanian land titles even if they were illegitimately given. When Jordan did not give title to anyone, then that land is either state land or privately owned (often by Jews) from before the Jordanian occupation. This has nothing to do with the British mandatory period.
As long as Tabo’s new developments are within Areas A and B, Israel can have no problem with them. However, if they include land inside Area C, they are intrinsically illegal and -- as described in the Fayyad Plan for choking off Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria – they would likely be part of the PA’s concerted effort to steal land from Israel by any means possible. Therefore, the coordinates of these design plans must be obtained in order to determine the extent to which Area C lands are included in them.
In contrast with the haphazard building of illegal isolated shacks and roads by Palestinian Arabs who have homes in nearby legal towns, Tabo has produced an elegant and sophisticated program. They claim it is to prevent Israeli stealing of so-called Palestinian Arab land, but it may be a cover for PA theft of Israeli land.
What makes it especially brilliant is the way it invites Palestinian Arabs around the globe to purchase a share of “Palestine” and to have a personal stake, and not just an ideological one, in what happens between Israel and the PA.
Sheri Oz is a freelance writer whose articles appear on major websites and a member of the Arutz Sheva news staff. She lives in Israel and blogs at Israel Diaries