On Sunday morning, 3 January 2021, the Palestinian Land Authority (PLA) in Gaza removed three houses—one of which was inhabited by a family of three—and bulldozed about 30 dunums of agricultural land and its utilities in the as-Salam neighborhood west of Rafah Crossing. The decision was made public on the PLA’s website on Wednesday, 16 December 2020, with the announcement of the PLA’s plan to obtain 55 dunums of land in Rafah for its expansion. In the announcement, property owners were instructed to contact the PLA by Monday, 21 December 2020.
Most of the land in Rafah is unappropriated and has been available for public agricultural and residential use since the Ottoman rule. The PLA’s decision—which came on short notice and did not include direct notifications to those affected by it—inflicted financial damages on farmers and displaced several residents from their houses. The decision also sparked public outrage, with some protesters clashing with police. Nine protesters, including three women, sustained injuries after being beaten by the police, and 16 others were arrested. In addition, six police officers, including a chief law enforcement officer, were injured, as the crowd, largely made up of affected persons, threw stones at them.
Some eviction notices were reportedly delivered on Wednesday, 30 December 2020, which did not allow for a reasonable amount of time to vacate the premises or pursue legal proceedings, due to the full-day curfew enforced every Friday and Saturday to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The Rafah Municipality released a statement stressing that “the Municipality and property owners were not included in planning for or carrying out this expansion project. […] These lands have been occupied and used for decades by citizens who have adverse possession rights and are registered at the Department of Income and Property Taxes.” The Municipality also demanded that land seizures based on the absence of ownership documents be stopped.
Similar incidents in the past show that the involvement of property owners and municipalities in such decisions has led to compromises that contribute to achieving the public interest and redressing those affected.
Therefore, Al Mezan calls for all expansion works on the bulldozed land in Rafah to cease until an agreement for fair compensation is reached, and stresses that confiscating properties in an overbearing and arbitrary manner is against the law. Al Mezan also condemns the acts of violence that occurred during the clash between protesters and the police and calls on the competent authorities to launch a prompt, comprehensive, and credible investigation into the incident. Finally, the PLA in Gaza must review its decision to ensure its compliance with relevant property laws.