"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 )
of the growth of the agricultural area was on Private Palestinian land
Israeli settler agriculture as a means of land
takeover in the West Bank/October 2013
The goal of this report has been to add another layer to the discussion about the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This debate about the settlements tends to focus on construction of new neighborhoods, establishment of outposts, demographic growth among the settlers, the benefits they receive, and settler violence. Israeli agriculture in the West Bank is usually discussed in connection with the monitoring and labeling of agricultural exports from the West Bank settlements, which is an important tool for advocacy work on the economic implications of settler agriculture. Little is known or discussed, however, about the far-reaching territorial implications of the phenomenon, its humanitarian repercussions, and the risk this poses to Palestinian the state building and for Palestinian civil society.
The last decades have seen a decline of about one third in cultivated Palestinian agricultural lands in the West Bank. This survey shows that one of the factors behind the drastic drop in the agricultural area cultivated by Palestinians in the West Bank is the ongoing expansion of Israeli agricultural areas. This expansion includes de facto appropriation of actively cultivated private lands whose Palestinian owners (individuals or entire communities) have been expelled, whether by the settlers or by the Israeli military.
Israeli agricultural lands in the West Bank, which today cover about 93,000 dunam (about one and a half times the total built-up area of the settlements, not including East Jerusalem), are a central and growing factor in the array of land-grab methods in the civilian reality that Israel has created over the decades in the West Bank. Since 1997, settlers have taken over about 24,000 dunam of land through agricultural activity, of which about 10,000 dunam are on privately owned Palestinian land, mostly around the settlements and outposts in the West Bank hill country.
The survey clearly demonstrates that the fastest proportionate growth in Israeli agricultural area in the West Bank has occurred around the hard-core religious ideological settlements in the West Bank hill country. In the first decades of these settlements’ existence, little or no significant institutionalized agricultural activity took place—as opposed to the Jordan Valley, which until 1997 was responsible for 92% of all of the Israeli agriculture in the West Bank.
The survey also demonstrates a definitive correlation between the religious-ideological character of the settlers in the hill country and the proportion of private land taken over for agricultural purposes beyond the jurisdiction boundaries of the settlements, in particular for planting vineyards and olive groves, for which the mountainous climate is ideal. It is more than apparent that the religious population of the hill country settlements, a majority of which is identified with the extreme right wing, is that which stands behind most of the takeovers of private Palestinian land in the West Bank. This finding accords with what we already know about the modus operandi of the extremist settler population in other types of land takeover as well.
This fact notwithstanding, we have identified another locus of takeovers of private Palestinian lands in the West Bank, namely, along the border area between the Jordan Valley and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which was closed off in 1967 by Military Order 151 and which is blocked off entirely to entry by Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Israel has allowed settlers to take control of thousands of the approximately 170,000 dunam of public and private lands that are trapped in this zone, for the date industry. This phenomenon, which is accelerating every year, relies on a water infrastructure that Israel created in the Jordan Valley, which transports greywater (treated sewage, mostly from East Jerusalem), for the irrigation of Israeli agriculture in the Jordan Valley.
We should recall at this point that much of the expansion of the Israeli agricultural area that has happened on so-called “public” lands (lands that were declared “state lands” by Israel or which were registered as such before 1967), is also illegal, not only according to international law, but also according to the Israeli authorities, because it happens on lands that have not been allocated to the settlements and without attaining official permits.
This accelerated activity is part of a widespread, multi-faceted, and well-funded strategy that the settlers, with the full backing of the state, have advanced—since the mid-1990s and with greater intensity since the outbreak of the Second Intifada—with the stated goal of expanding the area under the control of the settlements in Area C and preventing the future transfer of land to the Palestinians. The other main methods used to advance these goals are: establishment of new outposts, paving of new roads around settlements and outposts, establishment of local tourist infrastructure around sites with religious, archeological, or scenic value, and designation of large “industrial zones.”
The responsibility of the State of Israel for the phenomena described in this report, which can only be described as the “wholesale takeover of West Bank land for the sake of Israeli agriculture,” is not limited to the funding and organization of deliberate actions aimed at expanding the agricultural area under the control of the settlers, but also and primarily entails the daily military cover and backing it provides for this activity and the complete lack of law enforcement against settlers who infiltrate private Palestinian land and harass Palestinian farmers in blatant violation even of Israeli law.
A clear conclusion emerges from this document, namely, that the story of the illegal takeover of land for Israeli agricultural purposes in the West Bank is yet another manifestation of the deterioration of law enforcement there. This deterioration is neither coincidental nor anecdotal. Behind it lies a consistent and clear rationale that runs throughout the West Bank: the sacrifice of the rule of law for the sake of the territorial interests of the settlement enterprise.
To this end, the State of Israel continues to act on two parallel channels: the official channel by which thousands of dunams of land in the West Bank are expropriated in a variety of ways from their Palestinian owners and transferred to the settlements by the Civil Administration; and the ostensibly unofficial takeover by settlers of thousands of dunams of private Palestinian lands, with the direct and/or indirect encouragement, funding, and organization of the state.