A new report from an Israeli advocacy group says almost 40 percent of the Israeli settlements built in the West Bank have been constructed on private Palestinian land. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, the study also says that much of the land in the West Bank that Israel says it intends to keep in a final settlement with Palestinians is privately owned.
The report by the advocacy group Peace Now says 39 percent of the land used by 130 settlements in the West Bank is private land that has been seized from Palestinians.
The Peace Now report contradicts official Israeli policy that states its West Bank settlements are built on so-called state land, or land that is not privately owned. Israel also says that private property it does seize in the West Bank is taken on a temporary basis, for security reasons and is done by legal means.
Dror Etkes is one of the authors of the report. He says after years of unsuccessful court battles to obtain statistics from the Israeli Defense Forces-run Civil Administration, which oversees land records in the West Bank, Peace Now obtained the figures from someone inside the government who leaked them. Etkes says the data was startling.
"We found that according to the Civil Administration land registry, which has been kept secretly and away from the Israeli public eye for years, just about 40 percent of the land which the settlements are spread on is considered by the Israeli authorities as private Palestinian land," he said.
According to the report, Israeli settlements occupy more than 6,000 hectares, of private Palestinian land. As an example, the report says 86 percent of Maale Adumin, a Jerusalem suburb that is home to 30,000 Israelis, was originally private Palestinian land. The report also says that much of the land that Israel says it intends to keep in a final settlement with the Palestinians belongs to Palestinians.
Dror Etkes of Peace Now says in the data he studied he could find no case of a Palestinian receiving compensation for the loss of private land.
"We are talking about many thousands of cases here,” he added. “There is no doubt that in cases where complaints have been filed to the authorities, eventually the authorities have done nothing to in order secure the property rights of the Palestinian residents who lost their property."
About 200,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and about another 200,000 live in East Jerusalem, areas that Israel seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Peace Now report does not include areas of East Jerusalem where Israelis have established sizable communities.
Officials from Israel's Civil Administration say they will not comment publicly on the Peace Now report until they have had time to study it in depth. The Peace Now report defines private land as land registered by Palestinians before 1968, when Israel stopped all land registration in the West Bank. Israeli officials say defining what is private and what is state land is extremely difficult in the West Bank, because land titles have been registered at different times under the Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Israeli authorities.