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Basic Information on the Status of Land in Judea and Samaria


Classification of lands in the area

The legal framework that applies to Judea and Samaria includes features of Ottoman, British and Israeli law. It guides the Civil Administration’s activities within the framework of the laws of war, in the absence of annexation of the territory and full application of Israeli law.

Accordingly, the lands of Judea and Samaria are divided into three principal classes:

Mulk land – This is privately owned land, defined in advance as parcels of land designated for construction. Land of this type can be found within the boundaries of villages and towns, and is considered private property for all intents and purposes, similar to movables and other assets.

Miri land – This is state-owned land transferred to an individual for the purpose of cultivation. Land of this kind is situated mainly in the areas surrounding villages and towns, up to a range of 2.5 kilometers from the edge of the community, as it was in 1858. Although these lands are owned by the state, exclusive rights to them may be granted to individuals cultivating them via registration in the land registry.

Mewat – This is “dead” land, which generally includes uncultivated and open areas, distant from the community and its environs. This land is state owned.

Additionally, Judea and Samaria also contain land that is privately owned by Jews. Some of this land was purchased by Jews even before the 1948 war, for example the land in Gush Etzion, Atarot and the northern Dead Sea area; and some of the land was purchased by Jews after the Six Day War, for example the community of Etz Efraim in western Samaria.

The British Land Arrangement

During the British Mandate, the government launched a national project to map out and register the status of all the land in Eretz Israel. Started by the Mandate authorities, following the establishment of the State of Israel, this process was continued by the Israeli government in those areas that fell into its hands, and by the Jordanians in Judea and Samaria. Because the Jordanian land registry project was not completed, when the IDF liberated the territories of Judea and Samaria, it was found that part of the territory, especially in northern Samaria, had undergone an orderly registration process by the British, another part, especially in the districts of Nablus, Ramallah and Jericho, had been mapped out and registered by the Jordanian authorities, but that all the rest, especially in the Hebron district and the Judean mountains, had not been dealt with at all.

The status of those areas that were dealt with is perfectly clear and orderly, and all rights, whether of an individual or the state, are properly registered and documented. On the other hand, the areas that were not mapped and registered require an in-depth examination of the status of the land in order to ascertain whether it can indeed be designated as state land. Accordingly, state land is land for which no claim of private ownership has been proved.

The process of declaring state lands

When the government decides to establish a Jewish community, it carries out a meticulous process aimed at analyzing the true status of the land. In those areas where the land was mapped and registered, the examination is a fairly simple procedure because the records are relatively orderly and systematic. In those areas where the land was not classified, the practice of the Civil Administration is to hold a formal and prolonged declaration process aimed at ascertaining the status of the land beyond all doubt before authorizing planning and development. This procedure involves three stages:

At the first stage, aerial photographs from different periods are analyzed in order to establish that the land was not cultivated or settled at any time.

At the second stage, a painstaking tour of the land is carried out in order to uncover evidence of cultivation or any other use of the land, which could indicate the creation of a right of use of the land.

After these stages, the Civil Administration approaches the local Mukhtar and asks him to publicize the intent to declare the land state land. At this stage, those with claims are invited to petition the appeal committee and present any evidence that the land involved is privately owned.

In most cases, the examination carried out in accordance with the two first stages is very rigorous and meticulous and the appeals turn out to be unfounded. Nevertheless, in every case of an appeal, the examination process is restarted in order to once again ascertain the facts.

Data on the types of lands

Of the 5.5 million dunams (5,500 square kilometers or 2,120 square miles) – the entire territory of Judea and Samaria – about 123,000 dunams are privately owned Jewish land (purchased before 1948 or after 1967), 1.9 million dunams are state lands (registered as such in the Turkish land registry or declared state land by Israel) and 1.9 million dunams are unregistered land or privately owned Arab land. The rest is nature reserves and brush land of different types.

How the Jewish communities were established

When examining the manner in which the Jewish communities were established, it is important to distinguish between two main periods: until 1979, mainly under the Labor government, and from 1979 on, under the Likud government.

Because the Labor party (then known as the Alignment) viewed Israel’s presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza as being the result of a belligerent occupation, it established the communities it built on the principles of humanitarian international law, which determines that the state may confiscate private property in occupied territory if this act is carried out for military purposes. In light of this approach, the practice in that period was to confiscate private lands for the purpose of establishing communities, based on the approach that held that the Jewish presence in the area is beneficial to maintaining security.

However, after the political upheaval of 1977 that brought the Likud to power, and in wake of the petition to the High Court of Justice in the matter of Elon Moreh and Beit El, this approach underwent a significant change. The Likud, which viewed Judea and Samaria as an inseparable part of the historical Land of Israel, refused to apply the laws of belligerent occupation to Judea and Samaria, and refrained across the board from confiscating private land for the purpose of Jewish settlement. And indeed, among the Jewish communities established from this time on, 80%-90% are located on declared state land, with the rest situated on privately owned Jewish land.

From this time forward, all land allocated to Jewish settlements underwent an orderly declaration process and was authorized for construction only after it had been proved beyond any doubt that there were no valid claims of private ownership.

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