|Dialogue Program 2002|
24 July 2002
PASSIA ROUND TABLE
THE LAND QUESTION after 1948
Dr. Michal Oren
The State of Israel emerged through a process of 'nation building'. Among the structural foundations of this process, lies the concept of 'formation of territory' that serves a double function: 1) strengthening the inner identity of the nation; and 2) securing external recognition. Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, this process was initiated by the Jewish nation through the purchase of lands from the Palestinian-Arab nation, and then, the 1948 war. With the declaration of the State of Israel, the 'formation of territory' by the Jewish nation was secured through sovereignty and ownership of the land.
When the State of Israel was declared, there were two primary national groups, the Jewish nation which was the majority and the Arab nation which was the minority. As the majority group within the State of Israel, the Jewish nation dictated its beliefs, principles, culture and laws to the Arab nation and was able to maintain policies of non-equal allocations of land as well as other natural resources. The justification for all of this was the concept of 'historical truth' claimed by the Jewish nation and supported by political, financial, cultural and even academic tools.
It is typical in any country for the ruling party to insist that the 'individual' forego certain rights in the interest of the 'general public.' However, in the State of Israel where there exists a national conflict beween the majority and minority gorups, the minorities interpret acts for the interest of the 'general public' as a calculated way of dispossessing them further from their land. In the State of Israel, as in other bi-national or multi-national countries, the athorities indeed preferred the interests of the majority nation, in this case the Jewish people, and while using the term 'national project' they did not mean the 'public need' or the interests of all citizens. Rather, the term 'national project' related solely to 'Jewish needs.' Thus, in the case of the State of Israel, the term 'national' carries a double meaning: 'general public' and 'Jewish nation.'
In recognition of this duality, I have developed two distinct measuring rods to classify the land policies of the State of Israel after 1948: 'Land Policy of State,' and , 'Land Policy of Nation.' The confusion and blur between these two concepts and their implementation to achieve specific agendas can be seen in their application as described in the following examples.
Today, in the State of Israel, 93% of the 20 million dunam comprising the country are public. This is an extraordinary rate, unequaled except in the former Soviet states.
In the State of Israel, the land is divided as follows:
This was not the case with the State of Israel. From 1948 onward, the State of Israel used the same method, but turned this registration into a national goal: caching as much State land as possible that had been cultivated by Arab 'invaders.' This land was essential for establishing new Jewish settlements. As a result, there was a constant battle in the vicinity of the Arab villages and the process of identifying State land became a source of ceaseless conflict.
The State of Israel refused to ignore or waive even small, scattered pieces of land in the middle of dense Arab populations. There were thousands of trials over tiny parcels. Essentially, this was a race against 'Article 78 of the Land Law of 1858' that stated that after a 10 year period of cultivation, the land became 'private.' The Arabs brought aerial photographs and documents to the court trials as proof to substantiate their claim of having cultivated and paid taxes over a 10-year period. Furthermore, the Arabs worked enthusiastically to cultivate additional land before the land officers arrived to the villages. Although the Arabs were able to win many of the cases that were brought to court, the State of Israel gained hundreds of thousands of dunam.
In 1958, before this registration was completed, the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) enacted a new law that extended the required period of cultivation from 10 years to 15 years, and in actuality 20 years. This is how the seemingly innocent will of a country, as in all countries, to protect its lands from 'invaders,' became a 'national' war in which the State of Israel converted the 'Land Policy of State' into a 'Land Policy of Nation.'
Much of that we should ascribe to the fact that there almost weren't Jewish 'invaders' at that time. The Jews were dedicated to the Zionist idea of concentrating lands in the hands of the Jewish Government and that only she could develop the country and maintain the territorial boundaries for the Jewish state's safety and security, and for this reason, every piece of land was essential. And, this is why the Arabs rejected the plan and rallied to prevent it.
for 'Public Good'
A clear example is the case of 2,000 dunam that were expropriated in 1961 from Arabs living in Sachnin and Arabe for the 'national project' of a water conduit. The Arabs claimed that every time that the conduit ran through Jewish-owned land, the engineers found technical reasons why they should dig a tunnel under ground, while on Arab-owned land, the conduit always stayed open requiring the Arab landowners to forfeit property and/or having their land divided into unmanageable pieces. The Government of the State of Israel claimed that the water conduit was to benefit all citizens. However, being singled out to bear the cost of this 'national project' and seeing the ownership of Arab land diminish, it was difficult for the Arabs to accept the Government's explanation.
It was even more difficult for the Arabs to grasp the expropriation of 1,200 dunam for the establishment of the city of Upper Nazareth, or 5,500 dunam for the city of Carmiel, since this land was taken not for the use of all citizens but for one sector exclusively - the Jewish one.
In cases involving land expropriation, the law does not require reasons beyond the claim 'that the Minister of Finance demanded it.' Here again, we can see that the blur between 'National' and 'Public' is outstanding.
The State of Israel used a technique of expropriating land en masse without using them immediately. Rather than locating owners that would have required a long and exhausting process, the State of Israel created a pattern of expropriating large quantities of land without using them immediately. The implication was that it would be up to each individual Arab landowner to protest by filing a law suit against the Government. Yosef Weitz of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) described this strategy in his diary:
Thus, with the goal to populate the Galilee with Jews, Yosef Weitz decided at this point to implement a new procedure: first expropriating many parcels of land, using the law of expropriating for the need of the public. Then placing the responsibility on the Arabs to prove their ownership. However even if they proved it, they would only be entitled to compensation - in other land, or mone.
It should be mentioned that the State of Israel's first recourse was usually not expropriation. The official guideland in these affairs was to first try to buy the land through negotiation, and only when the Government was unable to succeed, was the use of the 'law of expropriation for public good' exercized. This was because the cost of compensation incurred by expropriation for 'the public good' was so high that the Government needed to be cautious.
Land in the Negev
to 1948 there was almost no land registration in the Negev. According
to Ottoman law, 'right of possession' was only approved for cultivated
land, again according to the aforementioned 'Article 78.' During the Mandate
period, the British continued the status-quo and recognized the Bedouin's
right of possession of 2 million dunam out of a total of 12.5 million
dunum in the Negev. It is important to note that during the Mandate period,
whenever Bedouin sold land to Jews, the British recognized the transaction
as real ownership and gave it legal validity.
Many Bedouin did not agree to this plan. They refused to accept 'abandoned land' that belonged to other Bedouin. They continuously asked for their land to be registered in their names. Their arguments were historic - the Ottoman and the British had recognized their rights and culture in respect to the land - Bedouin looked at the whole Negev as their 'Dira.'
The Government refused to accept these arguments, claiming that she was improving the conditions of the Bedouin in comparison to their former nomadic way of life. This argument was good only for softening any guilt feelings on the side of the Jews. Ultimately, 700,000 cultivated dunams claimed by the Bedouin, who had remained within the borders of the State of Israel, were given to new Jewish settlements.
Due to an objection raised by Emil Habibi, a member of the Knesset, the 'Beduin Land Affair,' did not pass quietly. In response to the uproar, the Government appointed a committee to discuss the matter. This committee pointed out that the State of Israel could not ignore the historic evidence, provided by the Bedouin, that proved that during the Mandate period the JNF actually purchased land from the Bedouin which thereby secured recognition of their rights to land.
Ultimately, the committee recommended that cultivation for 10 years would establish claim of ownership, and that this should be proved through tax documents or Tabu registers. However, in most cases, this proof was not available since the records were in Gaza under the jurisdiction of Egypt and therefore not accessible. Furthermore, when the Bedouin were moved to the Beersheva district, all the old marking signs in the original fields were destroyed by the new Jewish settlements. The Bedouin were only able to offer proof for the land in their new location near Beersheva, where they did possess the required documents and evidence from before 1948. And, in these cases, the Government had to recognize the Bedouin claims and register their ownership.
POLICY OF NATION
In 1951, the Government announced a 're-settlement program' for these 'internal refugees,' but certainly not to their places of origin. According to the program, each family would be given a plot, a house and some money. The first to be 're-settled' were the refugees from Safuria. They were 're-settled' in Eilut and Daburia where they received the lands of 'absentee owners.' The actual land belonging to the 'internal refugees' from Safuria was given to kibbutzim.
In 1953, the emergency regulations under which enabled the 'capture' of the 'absentee land' were about to expire. The Government realized that this would open the gateway to many law suits. Thus a new law was quickly enacted that offered compensation in money or land.
Driving this new law was the Government's fear of these law suits and their desire to avoid the confrontation. However, underlying this reasoning was also a critical interest to create facts - final confirmation that these lands that had been 'captured' now belonged to the Government and could be transferred to new Jewish settlements.
Another aim of this legal maneuver was to send a strong message to the 'internal refugees' that there would be no chance to return to their original villages. The 'Custodian of Abandoned Property' declared in 1953: "It's a dangerous illusion to think there is any property that is available to the refugees. Everything is already exploited and they have no place to return to."
'Law of Compensation'
Mapam, the Socialist Left Wing opposition party, tried to oppose the law. However, the Minister of Finance reminded Mapam that the expropriation of these properties and their transfer to the Jewish settlements had been initiated by the Minister of Agriculture, a member of Mapam, right after the war while Mapam was still in the coalition.
It is also facsinating to view how the Herut party (currently known as the Likud) opposed the 'Law of Compensation.' Herut argued that the properties should be given back to the 'absentee landowners.' It also argued that the Government was using the issue of security as an excuse and through this was inflicting an injustice on the Arab population. The Government that was based on the Labor party responded that the Herut attack was 'sour grapes' because they had received almost nothing from the 'abandoned land' for their settlements during the 'big loot' distribution in 1948.
Obviously, the supporters of this law were the members of the kibbutzim and moshavim. Putting their humanitarian concerns and moral values aside, they were afraid for their own future, which was based on the 'absentee land' that had been allocated to them. They were desperate to insure their legal status, even if compensation in money or land had to be paid to these Arabs.
Once the law was accepted, it was very difficult for the Government to find available land to use as compensation. All the best property had already been distributed, and for security reasons, land in dense Arab populations couldn't be used as compensation.
Eventually, the Government found small parcels of lands inside villages, in the Negev and in 'bad' land that non of the Jewish settlements had agreed to accept. When there was absolutely no other possibility, the Government used land that was being handled temporarily by Jewish settlements, although those lands had been intended for transfer to new Jewish settlements.
In reviewing the tough negotiations with the Jewish settlements that had to relinquish their land we can learn a lot about the spirit in that sector and their attitude towards the 'absentees.' To prevent the transferring of lands to Arabs in the future, they demanded that all the lands be transferred to the JNF. They claimed that the Jews were also refugees. That they were the refugees of the gas chambers of the Holocaust, and the minimum that they received was tiny flats and plots, in the new towns. That these Jewish refugees also had to become proletarians and live in bad conditions. Another argument that was made by the Jewish settlements was that the Jewish nation did not have any other territory, while the Arabs had many lands in Iraq and Syria.
In general, the representatives of the Jewish settlements could not understand why there was an identification with the 'Arab pain' and not with the 'Jewish pain.' They counter-offered to expropriate land from the big Arab landowners (like those who had 110 dunam each, in Yafia, near Nazareth) and redistribute them among the refugees.
At the same time, the Arabs were not in a rush. There are a number of reasons to explain this. The Arabs hesitated to cooperate with the authorities; they still hoped that their own properties would be returned; they were afraid that the 'refugee absentee landowner' owning the land would return and discover that they had taken over their property; and they refused to accept the low prices that were being offered to them.
As to the Christians, the government was willing to give foreign money to those who agreed to immigrate.
There were also bureaucratic difficulties - trials, lawyers, etc. There were some Arabs who refused to settle their claims before there was an agreement between the State of Israel and the Arab countries. Others were already settled in new places and the question was not as urgent for them. Others waited for the compensation fees to be increased.
Also, we must not forget the strong influence that MAKI, the communist party, had on the Arabs. MAKI, along with the Arab countries employed a massive propaganda campaign that made the Arabs fearful of becoming involved with the State of Israel.
End of the 'Law of Compensation'
The inhabitants of Safurie were the first to receive such exchangeable land - 200 dunam of buildings near Nazareth, where they still live in a neighborhood called Safafre. By the end of 1958, there were more than 280 apartments being built, and there was a plan for 300 additional apartments for the following year. This program did not solve the entire problem. There were still Arabs who were adamant in their refusal.
In 1961, the Government initiated another program that improved the terms for those who hurry up in suing. At this point, we see a change in response as the younger generation began steppping up and pushing the older generation to compromise. By 1970, one half of the compensations, that the absentees were eligible to, were distributed: 45,000 dunam in addition to money. In the end, the State of Israel eventually acquired ¼ million dunam and even more from the 'present absentee' properties.
Awkaf Properties as 'Abandoned Properties'
After riots broke out around this issue, the Government called for a Cabinet discussion. Most of the ministers opposed the policy and said that the State of Israel should return these properties, or at least their 'fruits.' One minister pointed out that if this sort of thing had been done to Jews, there would be an enormous outcry from around the world.
The Government's opposition, the rightest Herut party, demanded that all Awkaf lands be expropriated because the Metuals, who headed the Wakf Institute, used the money to fight the Jews during the war. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion claimed that the Metuals forfeited their right of ownership because during the war they left their religious duties, and that the war was forced on the Jews. Ben Gurion also argued that now that the State of Israel supplies religious and social services, there was no longer a need for the Wakf. And on the contrary, he also argued that the Arabs should learn to pay for these services and not to get them free from the Wakf.
Finally, in 1954, the Government reached a compromise: some of the income would be dedicated to religious and social goals including hospitals, orphanages, schools, etc. However, in reality, after 10 years, the income was estimated as dozens of million lira, while the Moslem religious and social programs only received 1.5 million. This sum was hardly even enough to repair mosques and install fences around cemeteries.
In 1958, under pressure from the Arab members of the Knesset and distinguished Moslems, the Government decided to take a 'first step.' They released the urban Wakf properties. However, only in 1965 was a law for the Awkaf properties legislated. Arab trustee committees, headed by Suheil Shukeiri of Haifa, were appointed. But, the majority of the rural Awkaf properties had already been sold to the Development Authority and to the JNF. And thus, in spite of the good will of the Government towards the Arab population, Binyamin Gur-Arie, the consultant for Arab issues between 1978-1984, summarized the Government policy as "over diligence" in keeping with the interests of the State of Israel. Gur-Arie criticized the Government for not attending to the spirit of the law, means, the Arab interest, or human rights.
After the 1948 War, in the Arab regions there existed more than 250,000 dunam that were split between the Government and individual Arab ownership into long and narrow plots. Because of the random distribution of these parcels between the Government and individual Arabs it was difficult to use the land effectively.
The Government was interested in this land for the establishment of new Jewish settlements, and she tried, with the assistance of the JNF, to persuade the Arab owners to exchange land with her. The agreements offered the inhabitants better land, closer to the villages, and sometimes even bigger in size. In this way, the Government during the 1950s was able to secure 100,000 dunam of 'concentrated' land, while at the same time appearing to be acting in the interests of the Arab landowners. To secure these arrangements, and prevent potential opposition from the Arab sector, the Government tried to enact the 'Land Concentration Law.' However, for the first time, Arab opposition was strong enough to prevent the passing of this legislation.
At the end of 1960, the 'Land Concentration Law' was presented to the Knesset by the then Minister of Agriculture, Moshe Dayan. During the presentation Dayan included an announcement that, through this legislation, the Government was going to establish approximately 40 new Jewish Settlements. The Arab members of the Knesset were furious and they aggressively vocalized their reactions that were echoed by a storm of demonstrations in the Arab street, many of which were exploited by the Communist party.
Although the Government made a great effort to present this law as a way to improve the 'Arab condition,' it was interpeted by the Arab population as yet another discriminatory legislation that enabled the Government to dissociate them of their rights to own their lands. The ensuing outcry against this law highlighted their distrust of the 'State Land Policy,' their fear of receiving small, bad, mountainous and distant plots, or absentee lands. Furthermore, the Arabs argued that if the Government really was trying to show 'favor' to the Arab population, they should have been first addressing the condition of the roads, lack of electricity, insufficient and unhealthy water systems, and the poor quality of education in the villages. The concensus in the Arab community and their supporters was that the Government was implementing a law which was supposed to appear favorable to the Arabs, but was just another strategy for the 'Judaization' of Arab regions.
Moshe Dayan tried to save the law by explaining that his announcement of the 40 Jewish settlements was a misunderstanding. However, by then the Arabs were beyond listening. After lenghthy discussions in the Knesset as well as other forums, the 'Land Concentration Law' was dropped.
This was the first time that Arab claims and arguments were heard in the Knesset and they were successful in blocking legislation of a land law. And thus, the advantages of the law, that is characteristic to a regular State land policy like in every other country with split up lands, fell under a heavy national conflict.
The JNF and the State of Israel continued exchanging land with the Arabs, sometimes through persuasion and other times by pressure. For example, Yosef Weitz of the JNF described how in in 1958 the JNF forced the villagers of Kaukab, against their will, to exchange their land in Sahel Batouf. The JNF erected guard stations in the middle of its own parcels of land that were scattered among Arab private land. The JNF cultivated its land and physically demonstrated no intention to relinquish these small islands of parcels wedged inbetween Arab owned property. In this way the JNF was able to 'persuade' the Arabs that they would never be able to possess these lands and for 'their own sake,' it was worthwile to exchange land.
The 'National Land Policy' is not unique to the State of Israel. Many countries use their land policies to discriminate and dissociate minorities and/or indigenous peoples. In Israel, as in other countries, uprising did occur. In the State of Israel, we can see that over the years there appeared to be a softenng in the stiffness of these types of rules and laws, as well as more of a sense of understanding. However, this was the result of the pragmatic will of the authorities to prevent uprisings, for the safety of the country.
conclude, we cannot argue that all land policies in the State of Israel
emerged from national interests. However, this lecture has demonstrated
that in the majority of the cases, this was the impetus. Similar situations
that are normally handled by other countries in a civil manner - serving
social, economic and/or political goals were dealt according to a 'national
land policy.' Historically, the implementation of 'National Land Policy'
- policy based on one national interest, is characteristic of bi and multi-national
countries where the conflict on territory serves as 'nation builder tools.'
One should hope that this model of ethnic democracy will be replaced by
model that embody compromise and cooperation.
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