The Quiet War: Land Expropriation in the Occupied Territories
Since their occupation of the Palestinian territories 30 years ago, and up to this day, the Israeli authorities have been waging a quiet war -a land war - against the Palestinian population there. To the international community, this war is less well-known than the violent acts committed by the Israeli forces against the Palestinians and Palestinian resistance to the occupation, particularly during the years of the Intifada.
The strategic aim of this land war is to systematically dispossess the Palestinians of their property, displace them from their land, replace them exclusively with Jews and turn the Palestinians into a people without a land. This is a continuation of the Jewish policy that was carried out in the 1920s and 1930s in Palestine, under the slogan "Dunum after dunum" of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements. During and after the 1948 war, the Jewish armed forces, as well as the underground terrorist organizations, evicted more than 750,000 Christian and Muslim Palestinians from their homes and lands and, in the process, gained control of over 78 percent of historic Palestine. Between 1948 and 1950, the newly created Jewish state destroyed over 400 Palestinian depopulated villages and built some 161 Jewish settlements over their ruins and on the lands of the uprooted Palestinians.1
From 1950 to 1967, it established an additional 185 Jewish settlements on the lands of the dispossessed Palestinians in order to preempt the possibility of their return to their property, as called for by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 of December 1948.2 This resolution, with which Israel refuses to comply, required the Jewish state to permit the return of Palestinians to their land and property or to compensate those who did not wish to do so.

Land War against the Palestinians

In the aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel occupied the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine, namely the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Soon thereafter, during June of that same year, Israel launched its land war against the Palestinians by destroying three villages - Beit Nuba, Yalu and 'Imwas - located west of the town of Ramallah in the Latrun salient. A total of over 8,000 villagers were displaced and over 24,000 dunums (4 dunums equal 1 acre or 1,000 sq. meters) of cultivated land belonging to these three villages were seized. Subsequently, the Jewish settlement of Mevo Horon was established over the ruins of one of the villages, and Canada Park (funded by Jewish Canadian contributions) was built over
the ruins of 'Imwas.
In July and August of 1967, three more Palestinian communities in Jiftlik in the Jordan Valley were destroyed, namely, Makhrouk, el-Ajajreh and Sattariyeh. Today, the Jewish settlement of Masoa is built on the site of the destroyed village of Ajajreh and its lands are being exploited by the Jewish settlers there. In the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel destroyed over 135 homes of what was known as the Moroccan Quarter, in order to make way for a plaza in front of the Wailing Wall. Additionally, 30 acres of land were seized for the expansion of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Post-1967 Israeli Strategies

From 1967 to 1977, under the successive Labor governments, Israel's expansionist policy was based on the Allon Plan (named after Israel's then-foreign minister [1967] Yigal Allon). The plan calls for the annexation to Israel and the settlement of the following areas of the West Bank:
• Occupied East Jerusalem and its immediate environs. The municipal boundaries were expanded to three times the area of the pre-1967 East Jerusalem Municipality.
• A "security belt," approximately two kilometers wide, running the length of the Jordan River Valley, along the eastern borders of the West Bank.
During this decade, land confiscation and seizure of Palestinian property by the various Labor governments for the purpose of settlement building were focused mainly on Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. Land was also seized for the cluster of settlements in the Beit Ummar area and for the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba in Hebron.
With the advent, in 1977, of the right-wing Likud government in Israel, the land war against the Palestinians was expanded to include all the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This was based on the Likud's ideological claim that the West Bank and Gaza are the liberated lands of the Jewish people and that these areas had to be settled in order to become part of what they call "Greater Israel." To implement this policy, the Likud government began seizing Palestinian property for the establishment of Jewish settlements between and around the Palestinian populated areas in the West Bank highlands. The purpose was to fragment the West Bank in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, having territorial and political continuity.

A Variety of Tactics

Israel has employed a variety of pretexts in order to seize Palestinian private lands for Jewish settlements in the territories:
In East Jerusalem which was annexed to Israel following the 1967 war and, hence, subjected to Israeli law, Palestinian property is seized for "public purposes" in accordance with those laws. The "public" means the Jewish public and excludes the indigenous Christian and Muslim Palestinians of Jerusalem; and the "purpose" is the building of private apartments in fortress-like settlements. Until they see bulldozers destroying their land, many owners are not aware that their property has been seized. Since June 1967, 25,000 dunums of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the annexed areas of East Jerusalem have been confiscated through the use of this method. The market value of this seized property is estimated at over US $1 billion, which shows that land expropriation not only dispossesses the Palestinians, but also impoverishes them.
A summary of the lands seized in annexed Arab East Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements built on this property is given below:
• In January and April of 1968, 4,800 dunums in the heart of East Jerusalem were confiscated from Palestinians, mostly in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood for the building of the first Jewish residential settlements of French Hill, Ramat Eshkol and their extensions. In addition, an industrial park was established in Qalandiya, northwest of the Jerusalem expanded municipal borders, on property owned by Palestinians from Qalandiya and Rafat.
• In August 1970, 13,000 dunums of land were seized for the building of four large fortress-like settlements. These include Ramot on Beit Iksa and Beit Hanina land; Gilo on land belonging to residents of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Safafa and Sharafat; East Talpiyot on Sur Baher land; and Neve Ya'acov on land owned by Beit Hanina residents.
• In March 1980, 4,500 dunums were seized for the construction of the Pisgat Ze?ev settlement on land owned by villagers in Beit Hanina, Hizma and Anata. This fortress settlement is presently expanding very rapidly and is expected to become the largest of the Jewish settlements in Jerusalem, with over 50,000 settlers.
• In April 1991, 1,300 dunums were seized from private land owners from Beit Sahour and Sur Baher for the projected settlement on Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa) in the Bethlehem area annexed to Jerusalem in 1967. In May 1997, Binyamin Netanyahu's right-wing government ordered the construction of a new settlement on this site. The action, in violation of the Oslo Accords, brought the peace process to a halt.
• In April 1992, 2,000 additional dunums were seized for the construction of another new settlement called Reches Shu'fat on land belonging to owners from Shu'fat.
In short, approximately one-third of the land of the annexed East Jerusalem area was seized for the construction of exclusively Jewish settlements. These are now encircling the Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem, hindering them from building or expanding their own neighborhoods.3

The 'State-Land' Pretext

In the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were governed by military law, the occupation authorities used security as a pretext for land-grabbing. Property would often be fenced off and then transferred for civilian Jewish settlements.
In the 1980s, however, the Israeli authorities changed tactics and began seizing Palestinian property by designating certain areas as "state land" in accordance with an old Ottoman law. The change came about after Palestinians successfully challenged the security excuse in the Israeli High Court when private land from the village of Rujib near the city of Nablus was seized for the building of the Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh. Exceptionally, the High Court ruled that there was no security justification for the establishment of this Jewish settlement on private Palestinian property, as it was located next to a large Israeli military base. As a result, the Court ordered the dismantlement of the settlement.4
In the wake of the Elon Moreh case, to be able to seize further Palestinian land, Israel started implementing an 1850 Ottoman law. This law states that any plot of land which is not cultivated for three consecutive years, or has less than 50 percent of its area cultivated, reverts to the Ottoman sultan. It should be noted that the Ottoman sultan enacted this law in order to encourage farmers to work their land. The Israeli authorities, for their part, used the law as a tactic to take the land away from the Palestinian farmers. Using these tactics and pretexts, the Israeli occupation authorities have succeeded in seizing an estimated 8 percent of West Bank land. In the Jordan Valley, which extends from Jericho in the south to Bardala in the north, the Jewish settlers have seized, or are in control of, 50 percent of the arable land there.
Land seizures have often been accompanied by the destruction of crops. This writer has gathered first-hand information on instances where wheat fields were bulldozed; fruit-bearing trees, such as olives, almonds, plums and grapes were uprooted; and even defoliants were used for the destruction of crops before lands are seized or during the process of expansion of existing settlements. Despite the peace process and the presence of the Palestinian Authority, the destruction of crops continues to this day.5
In a survey of all lands seized for Jewish settlements, the writer found that 95 percent of all Palestinian land seized was privately owned. Only 5 percent could be classified as state property. As a result of the quiet land war being waged by Israel against the Palestinian people, thousands of Palestinian farmers and land owners have been either partially or totally deprived of land.
These facts were created in violation of international law governing occupied territories, such as the Hague Convention of 1907, the Geneva Convention of 1949 and successive UN Security Council resolutions.
The present right-wing Israeli government is continuing on the path of expansion on, and destruction of, Palestinian property. Instead of reconciliation and peace with the Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu has chosen to pursue the quiet land war against them. This policy will only perpetuate the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and hinder its resolution through peaceful means.


1. Walid Khalidi, ed. All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Palestine Studies, 1993.
2. The number of Jewish settlements established pre-1967 in Palestine is extracted from the Map of Israeli Settlements in "Eretz Israel," presented by the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization, January 1990.
3. For more about the Judaization of Jerusalem, see Ibrahim Matar, "To Whom Does Jerusalem Belong?" Washington: Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, 1993.
4. A settlement of a similar name was established near the city of Nablus on the site of a forest considered state land.
5. According to Al-Haq (the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists) figures for the month of August 1997, an estimated 227,661 trees have been uprooted by Israeli soldiers and settlers between 1987 and August 1997. Of these, 81,000 were olive trees, which shows that this policy specifically targets olive trees, given the fact that they constitute about 25 percent of the total agricultural produce of the West Bank.

This article is based on a number of studies and publications by the writer on the subject of Jewish colonization of Palestine. The most recent publication is "Jewish Settlements, Palestinian Rights and Peace." Washington, D.C.: Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, 1996.