- Israel's 130 West Bank settlements are illegal under
international law, including Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention
- "Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well
as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory
of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not,
are prohibited, regardless of their motive."
- In addition, various UN resolutions (including 446, 452
and 465) condemned Israel's settlement building by declaring they have
"no legal validity" to exist. Yet they do and continue expanding
in reckless disregard of the law.
- Even so, after its forces occupied the West Bank in 1967,
Israel in principle agreed to respect binding local Jordanian law and its
own subsequent military order. It didn't then and doesn't now.
- B'Tselem's report titled "The Ofra Settlement -
An Unauthorized Outpost" shows that Israel reneged on its agreement
because Ofra is illegal under local and international law.
- Called a flagship settlement, it was established in 1975
by the fundamentalist Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) movement that
began seizing West Bank land for itself - modestly at first in abandoned
Jordanian Ein Yabrud army camp houses. Then later, more aggressively after
the Rabin government recognized it as a community even though 58% of its
area lies on land registered to Palestinians in Israel's Land Registry.
Settlement construction there is forbidden. Yet in 1977 under Menachem
Begin, recognition became official.
- Ofra set a precedent. As the first northern West Bank
settlement, it broke "the barrier that blocked settlement attempts
in the heart of the Palestinian population" and established events
on the ground for dozens more to follow - illegal settlements and outposts
"in opposition to the stated official position of the government,"
on paper only to be defiled and ignored.
- Some Background on Gush Emunim
- Under the slogan, "The Land of Israel, for the people
of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel," Gush Emunim (GE) emerged
in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but Israel's 1967 Six-Day
war victory inspired its adherents to believe that all biblical Israel
for Jews alone was now in reach.
- Today, GE is an influential, extremist pressure group
- fundamentalist, radical, messianic, militant, terrorist, and undemocratic,
yet supported by all Israeli governments. Ofra gave it a footprint, a toehold,
an entry for Israel to establish 130 West Bank settlements and other outposts,
now home to half a million Jews on confiscated Palestinian land.
- From Ofra to Colonizing the Entire West Bank for a Greater
- In their book, "Lords of the Land: The War over
Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories," Israeli authors
Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar described the beginning as follows:
- "Ofra...., which was established in trickery and
on false pretexts, flourished into the heart of the Israeli consensus because
of its respectable appearance, the settler's flagship institutions that
were established there, and the mellifluous discourse of some of its better-known
- Respectability, however, hid its dark side. Besides lying
on registered Palestinian land, the area's borders weren't defined. A community
plan was never approved, and required building permits were never issued
for construction. As a result, Ofra is now the largest unauthorized West
Bank outpost, yet it continues to exist. It has 2700 residents in well-established
northern and southern neighborhoods with extensive community services,
including three schools, a day-care center, several kindergartens, a Society
for the Protection of Nature field school, women's religious schools, various
public institutions, businesses, and light industry.
- It's registered as a cooperative society, a legal entity
offering many advantages. Their private, not public bodies. Their documents
and files aren't open to the public, and they can restrict membership solely
to others as ideologically committed as themselves.
- Ofra's Illegality Under Israeli Law
- Besides international law, Ofra violates local law under
which a settlement must meet four criteria to be legal:
- -- Israeli government authorization for its establishment;
- -- the settlement's jurisdictional area approved under
the military commander's order;
- -- a lawfully approved Civil Administration planning
authorities' plan; and
- -- settlements must lie on state land and/or land purchased
by Israelis and registered under their name in the Land Registry.
- At its inception in 1975, no government authorization
was given. Yet, on July 26, 1977, Israel's Ministerial Committee for Settlement
recognized Ofra as a civilian community. The Civil Administration told
B'Tselem that "no area of jurisdiction has been defined for Ofra,
which is one of the communities of the Meteh Binyamin Regional Council
in accordance with the schedule to the Order Concerning Administration
of Regional Councils (Judea and Samaria) (Number 783), 1979."
- The still-in-force Jordanian planning law states that
building permits are required for construction, including structure additions.
Lawfully approved, detailed plan outlines are also required. In 1971, the
IDF military commander signed Order No. 418. It left most Jordanian law
provisions intact, but "made significant changes to the structure
and composition of the planning institutions."
- International law is precise. It lets occupying powers
change existing laws only for reasons of military necessity or to provide
humanitarian aid for the local population. Israel did it anyway. It cancelled
local Palestinian planning and building committees, transferring their
authority to the Higher Planning Council subcommittees operating within
the Civil Administration on the Beit El army base.
- Special local settlement planning committees were also
appointed with powers given them by the military commander. It let them
issue building permits, "pursuant to valid detailed outline plans."
It also gave the Higher Planning Council power "to exempt any person
from the obligation to obtain a (required) license (building permit)."
- B'Tselem requested information on Ofra's planning process.
In response, the Civil Administration replied:
- "The build-up area of Ofra is not located in the
planning area of a local or special committee. There are no approved or
deposited planning schemes concerning the built-up area of Ofra. No building
permits or exemptions from building permits were given to structures in
- Proceeding anyway, Ofra leaders broke the law by bypassing
planning procedures and preparing their own "building rules."
As a result, they're legally invalid, and no building permits should have
been issued under them. Further, Ofra isn't situated with the boundaries
of a planning area where local or special local committees have authority.
Construction was authorized anyway.
- In May 2008, aerial photos showed 570 structures built,
at least 400 of which are single-family homes. None were authorized. All
- The Mandatory Outline Plan
- Lawful building permits may only be issued under Mandatory
Regional Outline Plan RJ/5. Approved in 1942 and still in force, it covers
the land on which Ofra lies. It's designated for agricultural use with
construction allowed under strict conditions:
- -- landowner approval must be gotten;
- -- only one residential structure per original plot may
be built provided the area is at least 1000 square meters; even if much
larger, the "one" rule applies; and
- -- distances between structures and plot boundaries must
be at least five meters.
- Ofra construction failed to comply on all counts. "Residential
dwellings and public buildings have been built in total disregard of the
provisions of the Mandatory plan."
- In October 1979, Israel's High Court ruled that privately-owned
Palestinian land seizures by military requisition order were only lawful
if they served "a clear security interest." Yet a month later,
the government decided to establish settlements only on "state-owned
land" without ever defining it properly.
- Contrary to valid Jordanian law, Israeli policy states
that "land that is not registered in the Land Registry, and has never
been cultivated or is not suitable for cultivation, or was only cultivated
in the distant past, is state land."
- However, land registered to Palestinians is their land
and may not be declared government property. Yet Israel twisted the law
to declare 16% of the West Bank state land besides another 14% pre-1967
under Jordanian rule giving Israel 30% ownership and growing.
- B'Tselem petitioned the Civil Administration for clarification,
clearly marked on a map to show:
- -- all defined state land;
- -- land confiscated for public purposes;
- -- land seized "pursuant to military requisition
- -- land classified as "absentee property,"
belonging to Palestinians who fled in 1967 and didn't return; and
- -- closed military zone areas.
- The information gotten showed that "the portion
of the built-up area of Ofra, or the area adjacent to it, that lies on
requisitioned or confiscated land is very small, except for the land that
the Civil Administration contends was confiscated by the Jordanians for
the army camp."
- By May 2008, Ofra's built-up area covered over 670 dunams
(about 170 acres). About 27% of it was seized under Expropriation Order
No 77/E (November 1977). Civil Administration information claimed it was
"expropriated by the Jordanian government for a public purpose"
and not initiated by Israel. Official documents, however, show that "the
expropriation process was not completed." Also, Order 77/E wasn't
recorded in the Land Registry, but the Civil Administration insisted that
it's state land nonetheless even though registration was incomplete and
- B'Tselem calls the land "not state land. (Therefore),
Order 77/E, issued by the Israeli military commander in 1977, is a new
expropriation order, issued more than two years after the settlers of Ofra
took over the abandoned houses of the Jordanian army camp and some three
months after the government of Israel decided to recognize Ofra as a permanent
- The entire scheme was illegal. Israel's official position
puts privately-owned Palestinian land off-limits for settlement construction
because it's not for a "public purpose" under (still in force)
Jordanian law. According to Plia Albeck, former State Attorney Office's
Civil Division head:
- Israel "may expropriate land for public purposes
in the region, but regarding establishment of a new community, whose residents
are Israeli citizens and at the time of establishment of the community
do not live in the region, it is very doubtful that it is an expropriation
for a public purpose in the region."
- Former attorney general Yitzhak Zamir agreed in saying
that "it is impossible to act under Jordanian law to expropriate private
land for public purpose" to build settlements. Order 77/E was thus
illegal and so is Ofra.
- Israel also expropriated dozens of additional acres for
an expanded area "not recognized as legitimate under international"
or local (Jordanian) law. Further, most of Ofra's built-up land is not
included under Order 77/E. In responding to recently filed petitions in
Israel's High Court, "the state admitted that (Ofra's built-up area)
contains additional lots that are recorded on the name of Palestinians...."
It amounts to at least 58% of Ofra's built-up area.
- The Ofra Cooperative Association, however, claims that
it's held the land for many years without registered owners disputing it
through legal action, so the land was lawfully theirs. The State Attorney's
Office disagreed in stating "no proof had been made that the land
was purchased by your client (and saying it is constitutes a) mere claim."
The Civil Administration also provided no proof of purchase.
- By law, all claimed West Bank land must be recorded in
the Land Register under the name of the purchasers. Failure to do so is
a crime. Ofra settlers said they failed to comply to "protect the
lives of the Palestinian sellers" even though there were none. Also,
according to Israeli attorney Plia Albeck, 90% of supposed West Bank purchased
land involved forged "fictitious" documents.
- As a result, Palestinian rights were grossly breached
because Ofra construction "prevent(ed) them from possessing and exercising
their ownership rights in the land and from gaining a living from it and
from its agricultural produce."
- Under Israel's Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,
5752 - 1992, section three states: "there shall be no violation of
the property of a person." Illegal settlement construction on Palestinian-owned
land constitutes a grave breach. International law affirms it. Besides
Fourth Geneva and numerous UN resolutions, Article 46 of the 1907 Hague
- "Family honor and rights, the lives of persons,
and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice must
be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated."
- Ofra construction violates this law, "extending
beyond the prohibition on establishment of the settlements." It denies
- -- the right to live on their own land, develop it, raise
crops on it, and gain other benefits;
- -- thousands of additional dunams that Ofra seized for
- -- more still for infrastructure, including for-Jews
only roads; and it
- -- "has ramifications for other Palestinian communities"
by preventing free movement between them and letting all settlements expropriate
more West Bank and East Jerusalem land.
- Under international and local laws, Ofra's settlement
is illegal. No jurisdictional area was set for it. It doesn't have a valid
outline plan, and at least 58% of its land is lawfully registered under
Palestinian names in the Land Registry.
- Israel's High Court held that settlements may not be
built on such land. Yet it was and still is. Also, the military order pertaining
to Ofra states that "the jurisdictional area of an Israeli regional
council shall not include (privately-owned) Palestinian lands."
- Israel's Civil Administration is prohibited from approving
plans for Israeli communities on land registered to Palestinians. The state
didn't authorize Ofra, but did nothing to stop settlement construction
and continues letting them expand.
- "Officially, Ofra is a recognized settlement and
not an unauthorized outpost." But that doesn't make it lawful. International
and local law obligate Israel to disband it, return the land to its rightful
owners, and provide compensatory damages. And that's besides the greater
issue of other unauthorized outposts, all 130 illegal settlements, a sovereign
Palestinian state, the lawful right of return, and decades of unaddressed
abuses depriving Palestinians from having the freedom, equity and justice
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Association of the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com.
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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