30 March 2017 marks the annual commemoration of Israel’s systematic seizure of Palestinian lands, referred to as Land Day. Palestinians have been observing Land Day since 1976 by organizing protests against land seizure and forcible displacement across the oPt. In 1976, when Palestinians took to the streets to protest the systematic confiscation of their land, Israel responded violently by killing and injuring dozens of protesters.
The past few years have shown marked increase by Israeli authorities in the implementation of the government’s land confiscation policies, particularly in East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank, but also involving Palestinian citizens of Israel. In East Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities have been steadily increasing the number of forced evictions and house demolitions, often attempting to justify the confiscation of Palestinian lands as necessary for the building of “public facilities”. These actions have led to gross violations of human rights and the displacement of thousands of Palestinian families. At the same time, Jewish Israeli families are encouraged to reside in Palestinian houses and Jewish-only settlements. In the West Bank, 58% of land has been seized by the Israeli government, particularly after the construction of the Separation Wall. With steady expansion of Israeli settlements and the security zones that surround them, the West Bank has been dissected into individual small cantons that not only separate towns and villages from each other, but also completely cut off access to their adjacent lands and resources.
Israel’s practices in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are considered a grave violation of article 49 paragraph 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which clearly prohibits the occupying power to “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Furthermore, Article 53 paragraph 1 prohibits destruction of private property.
In its report published on 15 March 2017, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) concluded that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. The report showed that Israeli Basic Law prohibits non-Jews the transfer, use, or development of lands that are under the management of Israel. As Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the broader West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in 1967 and effectively holds these lands under its authority, this provision in the Basic Law clearly demonstrates that Israel, the occupying Power, considers all lands its own.
Israel’s policy related to the seizure of Palestinian lands was emphasized in the new ‘Regularization Law’, which was passed by the Israeli Knesset on 6 February 2017. According to the new law, Israeli authorities can take control of Palestinian lands, particularly in the West Bank, to build and expand Israeli settlements. The law also allows settlers to remain in settlement homes built on privately owned land—building which was illegal under Israeli law, notwithstanding that all settlement activities lack legal validity under international law.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns Israel’s policies and practices related to land seizure and forcible displacement of Palestinian civilians, the increase in number of evictions in East Jerusalem, and the continuous construction and expansion of settlements, which can only be seen as an intention to change the demographical and geographical shape of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 in view of annexation.
Al Mezan questions the continued silence of the international community and the obvious disregard of their legal obligations under international law. This is clearly evident in the UN’s withdrawal of the ESCWA report, and the continued failure to address impunity that Israel enjoys in spite of gross violations of international law. This has further exacerbated the suffering of the Palestinian people, as they are deprived of their right to self-determination, to be free from foreign occupation, their right to return to their homes, and to move and seek development freely.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to provide protection for civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory as a first step towards ending the Israeli occupation. Al Mezan urges people around the world to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and support them in practicing their rights under international law, the UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments.