Israel is undertaking plans to expropriate swathes of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and transfer it to their ‘pre-1948 Jewish owners’. A clause in the coalition agreement of the far-right Israeli government says that it will instruct the relevant bodies to begin the transfer process and make way for the construction of Jewish only illegal settlements.
According to estimates reported by Haaretz the move could affect about 13,000 dunams (3,250 acres) of land in the occupied West Bank and about 70 buildings in Hebron, which apparently were owned by Jews before 1948 when Israel ethnically cleansed three-quarters of the non-Jewish population from territory that became part of the apartheid state.
After the demolition of some 600 Palestinian villages, Israel issued laws, which rights groups have slammed as racist, to block the return of Palestinians to their homes. Laws such as the “Absentees Property Law” were used to confiscate Palestinian homes and building and given to Jewish settlers and immigrants.
The plan undermines the legal and political arrangement that had existed since 1948, when Jordan oversaw the maintenance of the West Bank. Israel began a second wave of ethnic cleansing in 1967 and completed its military takeover of Palestine. The properties in question were designated as “enemy lands” and since the 1990s, Israeli government policy has dictated that the properties’ legal status would have to be determined by a future peace agreement rather than be returned to Jewish owners.
Both major parties in the current Israeli government, Likud and Religious Zionism, have explicitly stated their desire to create what they call Greater Israel. Both reject Palestinian right to self-determination and since coming to power have undertaken steps to execute their plans.
According to sources cited by Haaretz, one possible target of this move could be the building of the wholesale market in occupied Hebron, where the government plans to erect 70 housing units for Jews. While the West Bank was under Jordanian rule, the site was leased to the Hebron municipality as a protected tenant. After Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, that status was maintained.
The area was declared a military zone following the1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers by American Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein. Ever since, vendors who rented space from the city were barred from entering. The order has been repeatedly renewed. Plans were issued in 2019 to develop a Jewish only settlement but it has faced one difficulty after another until now.
Samar Shehadeh, an attorney representing the Hebron municipality, said that if ownership is indeed transferred no one will be interested in preserving the rights Palestinian tenants currently enjoy.