Half the West Bank Land Seized by Israel Used Only by Settlers, Report Says

Expropriated land that must legally be used to serve both Israeli settlers and Palestinians now holds settlements and roads for Jews only

According to a report released on Wednesday, nearly half of the West Bank land expropriated for public purposes is used only by Jewish settlers.

Such land was seized mainly for the construction of infrastructure such roads, but over the years, Israel issued expropriation orders for plots on which four settlements were established. Israeli High Court of Justice rulings over the years have determined that Palestinian land in the West Bank can only be seized for public use that will also benefit Palestinians.

The report was released by the Israeli nonprofits Kerem Navot and Haqel, and found that of the expropriated land in the West Bank, only 2 percent is used by Palestinians alone. The rest of the land is used partly by both populations, and partly by settlers only.

According to a study conducted by Dror Etkes and attorney Kemer Mashreki Asad, from the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 until 2022, 313 expropriation orders were issued for public purposes for lands covering an area of approximately 74,000 dunams (about 18,285 acres). Seized lands that serve both Jews and Palestinians make up approximately 37,000 dunams (about 9,142 acres); those that serve settlers alone make up over 36,000 dunams (about 8,895 acres). Only 1,532 dunams (about 378 acres) are used by Palestinians only.

Most of the expropriation orders were issued for the construction of roads that are used by both Palestinians and settlers. In some cases, however, expropriation orders were issued for the construction of access paths into the different settlements or the roads within them.

One clear example of how lands that are allegedly seized for public use are eventually used by settlers alone is the construction of the road used by the residents of the Jewish settlement of Kedar in 2002. To build the road, the Israeli army expropriated some 194 dunams (about 48 acres) from the village of Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

According to the original plan, the road was supposed to connect the entrance to the Palestinian town of Al-Eizariya with the main road that leads to Bethlehem. The army, however, has blocked the road, and for 20 years, it has been used almost entirely by settlers from Kedar. Last year, the military planned to remove the roadblock and allow Palestinian travelers to use the road as well, but following protests by the settlers, the plan never progressed.

On four occasions, expropriation orders were issued for land on which settlements were later built. The most extensive among them was the 1975 order that expropriated more than 28,000 dunams (about 6,918 acres) from seven Palestinian villages.

The city of Ma’aleh Adumim, the Mishor Adumim Industrial Park and part of the settlement of Mitzpe Yeriho were built on this land, but cover only about a quarter of the total expropriated area. The settlements of Ofra and Har Gilo were also built there, and the controversial construction plan in the E1 area (between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim) is supposed to be built based on this 1975 order.

Israel has also issued expropriation orders for archaeological sites. For example, 139 dunams (about 39 acres) of land close to homes in the Palestinian village of Al-Auja were recently expropriated for the archeological site of Archelais. In contrast, among the expropriation orders issued for Palestinian use alone are those for building sewage treatment plants and bus stations.

The data shows a correlation between the number of expropriation orders and the increase in settlements construction. According to the report, this is not a coincidence. Some 56 percent of the 179 orders that were issued to date were made between 1977 and 1984, and it was during these years that 70 new settlements were built – a task that required the construction of infrastructure and roads.

The accepted Israeli legal position is that the expropriation of land for public use for settlers is only allowed when it also serves the Palestinians. This was determined as an outcome of a petition submitted against the construction of Route 443 (which runs between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), which determined that the road can be built because it serves both populations.

In 2017, then-Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit submitted a legal opinion that privately owned Palestinian land could be expropriated for the public use of the settlements. This was part of an attempt to legalize the Jewish outpost of Harsha, which was complicated by an access road that passed through private land. The opinion came in light of a court decision by former Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, who ruled that land could be seized for the benefit of Israeli settlers because they, too, were part of the West Bank’s “local population.”

In 2020 Supreme Court President Esther Hayut nullified a law that would legalize the status of settlements partially built on privately owned Palestinian land, under the claim that it is ‘unconstitutional.’ In her ruling, Hayut said that the law ‘seeks to retroactively legalize illegal acts perpetrated by a specific population in the region whilst harming the rights of another.’