The Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank are a source of severe and multi-dimensional violations of the human rights of Palestinian residents living in the occupied territories. International Humanitarian Law prohibits the occupying power from establishing civilian settlements in occupied territory. Despite this prohibition, Israel began establishing settlements in the West Bank almost immediately after occupying it in 1967, through a massive takeover of land spanning tens of thousands of acres of Palestinian territory. This glossary of terms explains and elucidates the basic terminology regarding Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Private Palestinian Land: Land ownership registration (Tabu) in the West Bank began during Ottoman rule and continued throughout the British Mandate and Jordanian rule. Shortly after the occupation of the West Bank in June 1967, Israel halted the land registration process. By then, 30 percent of land in the West Bank was registered in the land registry. This means that there are currently two categories of private Palestinian land: private land registered under a Palestinian name in the land registry operated by the Israeli military in the occupied territory; and unregistered private land – private land held and farmed by Palestinians, but whose ownership has not been registered in the land registry.
Public Land (State Land): Land registered in the land registry as government property on behalf of the Jordanian Kingdom and land that was declared by the Israeli military governorate as public land. In other words, land that is not private. This land is administered by the military governorate and is intended to serve the public. The vast majority of public land is allocated by the military commander – through the Civil Administration – to serve Israeli settlements in the West Bank in contravention of international humanitarian law.
Settlements: Israeli communities established in the occupied territories administered by the military governorate in the West Bank with the authorization of the Israeli government. The treaties of International Humanitarian Law, as well as a series of decisions taken by the United Nations and other institutions in the international legal community, have determined that the establishment of civilian colonies by an occupying power in occupied territory is illegal. Therefore, according to international law, all settlements are illegal. Despite this fact, Israel’s Supreme Court has avoided a debate of this issue, claiming it is political. As of 2017, there are 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Unauthorized Outposts: Israeli settlements established in the occupied territories without approval by the political echelon – but usually with the involvement, assistance and funding of various government bodies. Most of the outposts were constructed entirely or partially on private Palestinian land without construction permits. Approximately 100 outposts were built from the mid-1990s and through the early 2000s; of these, over one third were retroactively authorized or are in the process of being authorized by the Government of Israel.
Authorization: Legalization, “regulation,” retroactive provision of a legal status to structures and settlements established without permission and in violation of Israeli law. As of 2011, the Israeli government has been retroactively authorizing what it were previously considered unauthorized outposts and transforming them into official settlements (which are illegal according to international law). Retroactively authorizing outposts includes, inter alia, determining an area of jurisdiction, changing the status of the land and promoting zoning plans.
In 2017, the Knesset legislated the Land Regulation Law (known also as the Expropriation Law) against the Attorney General’s opinion, sanctioning expropriation of Palestinians’ right to use private land on which Israeli settlements and outposts were built. There are several pending petitions to the High Court of Justice in the matter submitted by Palestinian landowners, Yesh Din and additional human rights organizations. These petitions argue that the law violates International Humanitarian Law and constitutes an explicit violation of Israeli Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and the right to property.
Area of Jurisdiction: The municipal borders of the local authorities as stipulated in the order issued by the military commander (GOC Central Command), the formal areas of jurisdiction of Israeli settlements and regional council in the West Bank are much larger than the territory they make use of in practice. In 2013, these areas were about a quarter of a million acres, constituting 63 percent of Area C. The area of jurisdiction assigned to Israeli settlements includes most of the land Israel defines as public land (State Land).
The blue line team: In 1999 the Civil Administration established a team tasked with examining the declarations of public land by Israel in the occupied territories from the beginning of the 1980s. During that period, following the 1979 Dweikat Elon Moreh ruling (HCJ 390/79), Israel declared tens of thousands of acres in the West Bank public land. The purpose of the examination is to ensure the land and planning allocation proceedings are advanced strictly on public land, in which, according to Israel’s position, Israeli settlements are permitted.
Survey Land: Alongside the blue line team, Israel is undertaking land survey proceedings designed to determine the status of additional land in the occupied territories whose rights are in question, and to examine the option of declaring them public land.
Master Plans (Zoning): A legal document that regulates permitted use of an area. Master plans include the itemization of land designation: residential construction, public buildings, commerce, etc. Master plans in the West Bank are authorized by the Supreme Planning Council – a body that is part of the Civil Administration and whose members are relevant experts and military lawyers; Palestinians have no representation. Construction without a master plan or use of land in contravention to its determined designation in the authorized master plan is illegal. Building permits issued pursuant to a master plan are a condition for undertaking lawful construction. Master plans for land seized by military order are called “planning guidelines.”
Military Seizure Order: International Humanitarian Law permits an occupying power to seize land and private structures for necessary and urgent military purposes. A seizure order does not alter the status of the ownership of the land but rather temporarily expropriates the right to use it, transferring it to the military until the necessary and urgent military need subsides. Between 1967 and 1979, the Israeli military seized – with the authorization of the High Court of Justice (HCJ 606/78 Ayub et al v Minister of Defense) tens of thousands of acres of private Palestinian land in the West Bank, the vast majority for the purpose of establishing Israeli civilian settlements (among them Efrat, Beit El and Kiryat Arba).
In 1979, the High Court of Justice barred this practice and determined in a ruling in the Dweikat petition that “A military administration cannot create facts on the ground for its military needs which are predestined to exist even after the end of military rule in that area,” and that in any event, “the decisive consideration motivating the political echelon to decide on establishing the community in question [the Elon Moreh settlement] was not the military consideration” (HCJ 390/79 Dweikat et al v Government of Israel et al). Following the ruling, the Elon Moreh settlement was moved to another location, and Israel ceased building settlements through military seizure orders. However, construction continued in the Israeli settlements already established on Palestinian land seized by military order, and Israel continued to establish settlements throughout the West Bank – primarily on land that was declared public land.
Abandoned Properties Order (Order No. 58): A military order issued in 1967 that determined that the Supervisor of Governmental Property in Judea and Samaria on behalf of the military commander is authorized to take possession of a property whose owners, or the entity that lawfully held it, left the West Bank. In contravention of the Absentee Property Law that applies to Israeli territory, the Order does not severe ownership ties to property considered abandoned, and the Supervisor is responsible for maintaining the property for the benefit of its owners, who may reassume ownership upon their return. Israeli policy in the occupied territories determined that as of the 1980s, abandoned property could not be used to establish settlements, since the Supervisor holds them temporarily until the owner returns.