"Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria" (1 Kings 21 )
Blue and White make Black
The Blue Line Team in the West Bank/ December 2016
This report is the first devoted to an examination of the activity of the Civil Administration’s Blue Line Team, which has been in operation since 1999. The Blue Line is a general term given by the Israeli authorities for territories known as “state lands.” The main task of the team was and remains to examine the precision of the maps of state-land declarations, maps made in previous years, mainly in the early 1980s. In other words, its job was to revisit and approve the boundaries of these declarations. Since its establishment and through the end of 2015 (the period for which we currently possess information) the Blue Line Team mapped territories whose overall area is close to 320,000 dunam, the overwhelming majority of which had been declared in the past as state lands. A smaller portion of the Blue Line Team’s work was devoted to mapping areas to which Israel helped itself for the settlements and the infrastructure surrounding them, by way of various military orders and through the mapping of lands purchased by Jews prior to 1948.
Over the years, the Blue Line Team became a key factor in all that relates to the development of the settlements and the retroactive legalization of dozens of outposts, since the procedures of the Civil Administration stipulate that any new plan submitted to the planning institutions for approval and planned on state lands declared prior to 1998 (i.e. on the overwhelming majority of declared lands) requires a reexamination of the land’s status by the Blue Line Team.
Background to the Blue Line Team’s Establishment
Following the ruling in the Elon Moreh petition at the end of 1979, Israel declared over 750,000 dunam in the West Bank as state lands. After the redeployment stipulated by the Oslo Accords (in the years 1993-1995) approximately 655,000 dunam of these lands remained in Area C. These lands were declared as state lands based on Israel’s distorted interpretation of the Ottoman Land Code, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, they were allocated for the development of settlements, and a sweeping prohibition was imposed to prevent Palestinians from using them. Over the years, inherent problems in the enactment of the state-lands declaration mechanism resulted in the creation of settlements “split” into a number of parts, and also left enclaves of private Palestinian lands in the heart of the settlements. As a result, vast private Palestinian territories around and within the settlements, which had never been included in declared-land areas, were stolen from their owners.
Most of the declarations of state land were made in the early 1980s by a team headed by the longtime Director of the Civil Department in the Ministry of Justice, Atty. Plia Albeck. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the number of declarations and the area of lands declared has dropped sharply, although they did not taper off completely.
Alongside the decline in the number of active, formal declarations, a parallel channel of mapping developed, which the Israeli authorities refer to as “survey lands,” i.e. lands that can be declared as state lands since according to the state’s requirement, they are cultivated not at all or insufficiently, and accordingly, under “substantive law,” they are viewed as state lands for all intents and purposes. These lands are mapped by a team that works in parallel to the Blue Line Team, known as the Survey Lands Team. However, since Israel never conducted a full survey of all the lands in Area C, today there is no government or civil body in possession of a complete picture regarding the location and overall size of the lands that Israel – if not actually then certain potentially – defines as “state lands.”
Work of the Blue Line Team
Approximately 70% of the area mapped by the Blue Line Team during the years of its work is located within the settlement jurisdictional areas, while the rest of the lands (30%) are located outside of the official settlement jurisdictional areas, but included in the realm of six Israeli regional councils in the West Bank. Only a fraction of a percent (0.2%) of the areas mapped by the Blue Line Team to this day have been allocated for Palestinian use, all of them for the “settlement” of the Palestinian Bedouin east of Abu Dis, a maneuver intended to enable the expansion the settlements in the Maaleh Adumim bloc.
The Blue Line Team was in continuous operation over the years from its establishment, with the exception of 2002, and there are extreme variations in the area of the lands mapped each year. The years 2005 and 2015 saw the most extensive mapping of all.
It is important to note that 70% of the territories mapped by the Blue Line Team that are not within the settlement jurisdictional areas are located in declared military training areas (although in the decisive majority of them no training takes place). This is an area of approximately 68,000 dunam, comprising over one-fifth of the entire area mapped by the Blue Line Team since its establishment. In recent years, there has been a jump in the overall area that the Blue Line team has mapped within the training areas, and to our understanding, this maneuver proves that the military training areas are first and foremost a “land bank” that Israel is preserving as land reserves for the settlements.
Approximately 60% of the territory mapped by the Blue Line Team to this day is located east of the route of the Separation Wall, i.e. around isolated settlements and east of the “settlements bloc.” This trend has intensified in recent years (since 2011), and to our understanding, it constitutes an additional proof of the contradiction between Israel’s actual policy and its declared commitment to a two-state solution.
“Quality” and Precision of the Blue Line Team’s Work
An examination of all areas declared as state lands and mapped by the Blue Line Team revealed that 14,716 dunam, approximately 5.5% of the total area mapped by the team, were cultivated during the early 1980s, and therefore, were not supposed to be included within the Blue Line. Slightly less than half of these areas are today located in the actual bounds of 65 settlements, in industrial areas and various outposts, and on almost 6,000 dunam of them, structures were built or the land was otherwise developed. This means that thousands of dunam of private lands owned by Palestinians were illegally stolen even according to the very “permissive” standards to which the Israeli authorities were supposed to adhere, leading to the conclusion that the Blue Line Team preferred to turn a blind eye to the fact that these areas were cultivated and to retroactively legalize buildings that should never have been erected in the first place.
An examination of the “quality” of the Blue Line Team’s work and its level of precision revealed large gaps in the level of accuracy between the various maps. This fact belies the team’s failure to adopt binding professional standards in its work over the years. It is clear that this fact also did not escape the notice of the members of the Blue Line Team themselves, since over the years they made dozens of corrections on earlier maps. However, in a number of cases, these corrections had no impact, since in sites where the Blue Line Team reduced the lands in earlier mappings they had performed, buildings had already been erected or other development work had taken place.
An examination of the “errors” of the Blue Line Team reveals that a clear motive underlies some of them, and it can be plainly seen that they were intended to enable the paving of settlement access roads, as well as roads connecting areas included within the Blue Line but that remained cut off from one another. In a number of places the team included historical roads and areas where Palestinians from various communities lived and conducted their lives within the Blue Line, and in so doing, the Blue Line Team contributed to the truncation of the contiguity of Palestinian space and the eviction of Palestinians from lands slated to serve the settlement undert