Palestinian Studies

2020 Workshop

Haim Yacobi

Professor of Development Planning, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London

Ownership as a Battleground: the Politics of Planning and Land in Israel/Palestine

Co-author: Elya Milner

The main purpose of this paper is to critically outline the dynamic relationships between ownership, land and planning in settler colonial contexts in general and in Israel\Palestine within the Green Line in particular. As we will argue, ownership is not a neutral, “natural”, static or objective concept; rather, it is constructed upon power relationships, shaped by legal and planning apparatuses in order to serve territorial appropriation as well as demographic and social control. 

However, ownership is also used by indiginious people as a mean to struggle over rights, to “decolonise” space and to achieve legitimacy. The proposed paper aims to contribute to our understanding of ownership relations (mediated by planning, law and other practices) as central features of settler colonial spatial projects of displacement and replacement. 

Within the above general argument, we will focus on the below subjects: Ownership and land use planning: Between the legal and the material - In this section of the paper we discuss how planning is enrolled in the settler colonial project of establishing a new regime of ownership as a new regime of affinity and belonging. We will examine this subject through two different cases: the first is the “Sharon Plan”, the territorial scheme that dictated Israel’s colonial geographies following the 1948 war, a plan which operated within the Israeli government's law that institutionalized the dispossession of the displaced Palestinian Arabs. The second case is the struggle of a Bedouin family in the Galilee to receive a building permit for their house that is built on their privately-owned land. Both these cases, we will argue, exemplify how planning is used as a mechanism to anchor the legal regime of property in material geographies. 

Ownership and liberalization: Between state and private land ownership In this section of the paper we will discuss the centrality of land ownership not solely for capitalist markets and capital accumulation, but also as an central element for the expansion of settlers over territory. But as we will argue “free-market” dynamics also challenge the colonial logic of space. Specifically, we will discuss some complementary cases; the first is the land reforms of selective privatisation in 1990s and the ways in which it enabled the “Russian” neighbourhood Ganey Aviv in the Jewish-Arab “mixed city” of Lod to be constructed in the 1990s as a ‘Jews-only” neighbourhood. This project became a contested site when Palestinian inhabitants, started moving and owning property, claiming their “right to the city” and sense of belonging. The other case will focus on the controversial new law “Nation-State Law” which aims to preserve “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel as a “unique to the Jewish people.” As part of this law, Jewish settlement were defined as a national value and mandates that the state “will labour to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”

Haim Yacobi is a Professor of Development Planning at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL and the Programme Leader of the MSc Health in Urban Development.  The main issues that stand in the center of his research interest in relation to the urban space are social justice, the politics of identity, urban health, and colonial planning. In 1999 he formulated the idea of establishing "Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights" an NGO that deals with human rights and planning in Israel and was its co-founder. His latest books are Rethinking Israeli Space: Periphery and Identity (Routledge 2011 with Erez Tzfadia) and Israel\Africa: A Genealogy of Moral Geography (Routledge 2016). Currently he holds a Wellcome Trust Small Grant dealing with health, violence and infrastructure in Gaza.