How 93% of land in Israel Proper is Kept Off
Limits to Palestinians with Israeli Citizenship

by Stanley Heller

Approximately 78% of the land of Israel (within the 1949 armistice lines) is state land and is managed by the Israel Land Authority. Another approximately 15% of land is owned by the Jewish National Fund (source Dr. Uri Davis who has researched land issues for many years) and is also managed by the Israel Land Authority. In law none of that land is ever sold. When one buys a home, apartment or building for a business the land is leased to the property buyer for 49 years long (or a multiple of 49 years).

The Jewish National Fund has a specific mandate to develop Israeli land for benefit of Jews only, "redemption of land from desolation" as it puts it. In response to a legal action on the issue the JNF made this statement "The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel... The JNF, in relation to being an owner of land, is not a public body that works for the benefit of all citizens of the state. The loyalty of the JNF is given to the Jewish people and only to them is the JNF obligated."

In 1961 the JNF made a covenant with the Government of the State of Israel to let the ILA administer JNF lands. In return the ILA decisions would be made by the Israel Land Council (ILC) upon which the JNF would permanently have significant, but less than half the membership.

So over 90% of the land is administered by a Council that has a significant presence of JNF membership. In practice according to an Israeli comptroller, compared to JNF participation on the ILC, government representative participation is "minimal". In 2013 the top two positions in the Council were held by JNF officials. One was chaired by JNF chairman Efi Stenzler, the other by his deputy, Eli Aflalo. So the Israel Land Authority pretty much follows the wishes of the JNF, a group set up exclusively to work for the benefit of one religious-ethnic group.

Two facts help show how this plays out. One concerns farm land. An Israeli Lands Authority report for the year 2000 (quoted by Badil) indicates that of the 2.8 million dunams leased under long leases, none were leased to Palestinian citizens. Another concerns development. Since 1948 the state has authorized the creation of about 1,000 new Jewish communities, but not a single Arab community except for under­developed townships in the Negev where Bedouins (dispossessed of their lands) are being forced to live.

Until a few years ago the 15% JNF land could not be leased at all to non-Jews. A court ruling voided this in 2005 and six Arab families were allowed access to the the land.

In theory the 78% that makes up state land could be leased to non-Jews, but in practice rarely is. Human Rights Watch talked about how this is done in a 2008 report.

One way Israeli Arabs are kept out is by means of "acceptance committees" of rural and suburban settlements. To move into a rural and suburban settlement you have be pass muster by the committee. Over 400 localities have them and the committees can bar anyone for any reason at all. The Israeli High Court upheld the law that allows that just this year. The Israeli online magazine 972mag called the decision legalization of segregation.

It is true that over the years some Israeli Arab lawsuits have met with success. Principles of equality have been won on paper, but the actual number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who are able to live on ILA land is infinitesimal and as Palestinian land in Israel is continually seized by authorities, the amount of ILA land is growing.

The Palestinian population is approximately 18% of the total Israeli population. They actually own/inhabit just 3.5% of the land.

Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions
gave this analysis:

Actually, some 94% of the land of the country is off-limits to non-Jews (or 93%, whatever), which means they own 6% but because of zoning and other restrictions are only able to utilize 3.5%. They can live in the cities of Israel, but intolerance and occasionally violence keeps them to their own neighborhoods. So taking out the restrictions on Palestinian housing, etc., they can live on just 11% of east Jerusalem land -- or 8% of the entire Jerusalem municipal area since they can live in west Jerusalem legally but cannot in terms of the violence they would face if they tried. The only places Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel live "together" is in the poor Arab towns taken over by Jews -- Lod, Ramle, Jaffa, Acre -- and there Arabs are confined to small, poor, segregated neighborhoods (Carmiel and Upper Nazareth being the main exceptions, and Neveh Shalom).

In 1948 and after Israel systematically demolished some 50,000 homes in more than 530 Palestinian towns, cities and villages, took their lands (they owned 94% of the land until then, either individually or communally) and gave them to Jews. Since then some 800 Jewish cities, etc have been established, and not one Arab one. So even if people can live on some of the land, it is overcrowded, unaffordable or slummy. No housing horizon for young people.

The book Access Denied: Palestinian Access to Land in Israel by Hussein Abu Hussein and Fiona McKay goes into depth on all this. So does Apartheid Israel by Uri Davis.

Final note: Remember all this is about the rights of Arabs/Palestinians deemed citizens by the Israeli government. Those without the designation have less rights. For instance, the Israeli government claims all of Jerusalem to be Israeli territory. However, the Palestinians in East Jerusalem (conquered in 1967) are only considered residents, not citizens of Israel. Their land rights are much restricted. In 2009 Ha'aretz had a piece disputing the claim by PM Netanyahu that these Arabs could live anywhere in Jerusalem.

posted December 22, 2014.