Ph.D. Fellow at the Centre for International Cooperation and Development Studies, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Co-author: Laurence Roudart
This paper explores the contested and variable relationship between land use and land ownership in the on-going struggle for land in the West Bank. In settler colonial contexts, use of land is still a crucial determinant of property ownership and, as suggested by Bhandar (2018) and Weizman (2007), it becomes an arena for advancing land claims and shaping prevailing ownership relations. Drawing on an interdisciplinary approach that puts settler colonial studies (Svirsky 2017; Wolfe 2006) in dialogue with agrarian political economy (Levien 2017; Borras Jr and Franco 2012) and indigenous studies (Smith, Tuck, and Yang 2019; Coulthard 2014), this paper aims to unveil what forces, processes and power relations are embedded in land use practices and the kind of configurations of ownership they produce. As such, this paper relies on an extensive ethnographic fieldwork carried out between 2018 and 2019 in the rural villages of Al-Walaje and Wadi Fukin – both located along the Green Line: over sixty interviews with farmers, lawyers and civil society actors were conducted, archival materials were collected, field observations and geospatial analysis of land use changes were carried out in the above-mentioned villages. In these two villages, land use patterns emerge as the result of settler colonial dispossessory policies that have worked to render Palestinian ownership insecure through a recombinant use of different legal techniques of ownership as well as other economic and extra-economic means: all these means have transformed and limited indigenous uses of the land, paving the way for dispossession. Yet, land use patterns also emerge as the result of indigenous communities’ actions to resist, oppose or complicate processes of land dispossession. This paper analyses how the use of land remains at the heart of the Palestinian struggle for land. It focuses on how the villagers of Wadi Fukin and Al-Walaje have attempted, in a collective effort, to establish rights of ownership through cultivation and intensified agricultural land use in response to the State land doctrine implemented from the ‘80s onward. However, these efforts are entangled in changing political-economic conditions that have led, in recent years, to the emergence of new patterns of land use. From the adoption of market-dependent intensive farming techniques in Wadi Fukin to the construction of multi-floor buildings on agricultural lands in Al-Walaje, these changes in land use suggest that the struggles to resist settler colonial dispossession are increasingly inscribed into a wider Palestinian neoliberal project (Hanieh 2013), that is working to redefine the system of collective relationships and practices that arise from land use into a market-based relationship of the individual with its landed property. This paper argues that ownership of the land is not merely a legal claim in the face of the settler colonial state. Through this claim, it is the set of social relations, representations and practices related to land use, through which communities produce the conditions of their existence, that is defended. Thus, changing uses of the land reflect a wider social transformation rather than changing property ownership itself.
Fadia Panosetti is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Cooperation and International Development based at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium. Her research project lies at the intersection of rural studies, settler colonialism, agrarian political economy and indigenous studies. Her work looks broadly at agrarian transformations in Israel/Palestine and focuses specifically on the gendered implications of and responses to changing regimes of land access and shifting patterns of land use in rural areas of the West Bank. In 2018, she spent a semester at the European Centre for Palestinian Studies (University of Exeter) researching about decolonial and indigenous feminism and the intersection between gender and indigenous dispossession in settler colonial contexts. Her research is fully funded by the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research.