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[Technion, Architecture and Town Planning] Dr. Yosef Rafiq Jabareen, about the fate of 500 uprooted Palestinian towns, villages and cities


Adalah's Newsletter, Volume 62, July 2009


The Geo-Political and Spatial Implications of the New  

Israel Land Administration Law on the Palestinians

By Dr. Yosef Rafiq Jabareen

Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, The Technion, Haifa





The new Israel Land Administration (ILA) legislation, which is currently being debated in the

Knesset in the framework of the Economic Arrangements Law for 2009-2010, seeks to

implement far-reaching structural reforms in the ILA and in regard to state-owned lands.

Crucially, it would legally transfer land ownership to all holders of long-term leasing

contracts for various land purposes, such as housing and employment. The current

government and its leaders are exerting enormous pressure on lawmakers to approve this law.

The subject raises a number of serious questions from the perspective of the Palestinians,

both those living in Israel and displaced persons including the refugees. Of course, the subject

is too broad to cover here, so I will focus only on the law’s geo-political and spatial

repercussions for the Palestinians and their future in their homeland.

The ILA is the body that, under the Israel Land Administration Law - 1960, is responsible for

managing the lands owned by the State of Israel, the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet

Leyisrael), and the Development Authority. These publicly owned lands account for about

93% of the state’s territory. An international comparison shows that there is almost no other

state in the world, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc,

where the state owns some 93% of its lands, as in Israel. Importantly a substantial part of

these lands derives from Palestinian property including uprooted or destroyed villages, and

lands that were expropriated from the Arabs under a broad web of expropriation laws that is

unprecedented in the modern history of humanity.

The purpose of the new ILA legislation, as it is described, is framed around the neo-liberal

economic discourse of privatizing public resources (land in this case); improving economic

efficiency; encouraging economic activity; reducing government bureaucracy; limiting

government intervention in the free market; promoting private ownership and encouraging

personal initiative. In the law’s explanatory remarks, it is written that “the work of the

Administration is characterized by a level of efficiency that is not high. This stems primarily

from the system of leasing, which imposes upon the Administration a burden of constant

friction with the leaseholders … The Administration operates according to a cumbersome

system of decisions and in an organizational structure that is incompatible with the work

procedures required for managing land at this time” (The Economic Efficiency Bill, 2009:

page 514).





The goal of this legislation is to enable the state to sell or transfer ownership of lands to

leaseholders, even without payment, while at the same time it is to preserve the lands of “the

Jewish people” held by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF, in turn, holds about 13%

of the state’s territory. Consequently, the legislation states that “in order to implement the

reform regarding the transfer of ownership to the leaseholders, land exchanges will be

required of the same scope and size between the state and the JNF … In order to enable a

rapid and simple execution of the process of land exchanges, it is proposed … to stipulate

that it will not be necessary to submit the transactions for approval by the Knesset Finance

Committee” (page 523). The JNF thus seeks to expand the lands it holds by relinquishing

lands in the existing cities and receiving lands in the Galilee and Negev (Naqab) as

compensation. The implementation of the law would ultimately enable the JNF to enjoy new

lands that would be transferred to it at the expense of state lands that are supposed to be for

the benefit of the entire public and not only for one ethnic group. That is, it is prohibited for

Arabs to touch the lands of the JNF and they are not allowed to enjoy them like the Jews.

The legislation would eventually lead to the transfer of ownership, even without payment, to

Jewish leaseholders and to a “clearance” sale of what remains of Palestinian property in many

cities in Israel, such as Jaffa, Ramla, Lod, Be’er Sheva, Tiberias, Beit Shean, Haifa and Acre,

as well as the Palestinian property in West Jerusalem. Thus, the Palestinian Nakba would be

completed in these cities in the future when the Palestinian space that has existed for many

generations would be finally eliminated and it would become a case of privatized real estate

for the enjoyment of Jewish developers, tycoons and individuals. This type of ownership

transfer “operation” would strengthen the processes of gentrification, or urban renewal,

which are characterized by the exclusion and exit of the local or indigenous population from

city centers and the entry of entrepreneurs and a population that is stronger economically.

A similar fate is also expected for part of the land of about 500 uprooted Palestinian towns,

villages and cities; kibbutzim, moshavim and many Jewish communities are located on the

ruins of these Arab communities. These Jewish communities today generally lease the lands

on which they are situated from the ILA. The new law is liable to enable these communities

to purchase these lands instead of leasing them, and to receive ownership of the lands.

Kibbutzim, moshavim and many other communities would be able to build residential

neighborhoods, develop commercial centers and enjoy valuable lands throughout the state.

Besides the harm to Palestinian property, this type of process would create a further unequal

allocation of resources between different population groups in Israel, thus widening the

economic disparities within the population.

The composition of the Israel Land Authority’s council (the new legislation seeks to change

the name from “administration” to “authority”) in its new format would clearly exclude Arab

representation. According to the proposal, a government minister would chair the council and

the government would appoint the other eleven members, including six representatives of

government ministries and five representatives of the JNF. The proposed composition of the

council would exclude the Arabs from decision-making related to the state’s lands. Thus, it

would prevent them from participating in shaping the policy that determines the future of

about 93% of the state’s land.





This legislation has far-reaching significance for the future of the Palestinian space. In

addition to excluding Arab citizens of the state from everything related to making crucial

decisions on land issues, the implementation of the law would severely harm the expansion of

the jurisdiction of Arab communities in the future. The future development of these

communities, resolving the housing shortage and meeting their social, cultural and economic

needs, all depend on annexing lands adjacent to these communities and which are today stateowned

and managed by the ILA. Despite the small number of cases in which the jurisdiction

of Arab towns has been expanded in recent years, these exceptions usually occur on land

situated within Jewish regional councils and administered by the ILA. If the legislation is

enacted and the land is privatized, enormous difficulties would be created for Arab towns

especially if the land is transferred to private Jewish ownership instead of state ownership. In

this case, it would not be possible to expand the jurisdiction of Arab communities at the

expense of private lands belonging to Jewish citizens of the state. The anticipated result is the

continuation of the trends of increased crowdedness in Arab towns and villages, the

exacerbation of housing and employment problems, and the lack of land available for the

public’s needs.

Moreover, the new legislation states that “representatives of the council will be subject to the

decisions of the government, as expressed in its decisions” (page 517). Thus, the government

would be able to carry out its plans to sell land and to Judaize the Galilee and the Negev in a

more efficient way when it controls the pace of sale and commercialization of the privatized

public space. Thus, the neo-liberal economic vision, which focuses on the privatization of

public resources, would converge with the completion of Palestinian disinheritance.

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