Palestinian Studies

2020 Workshop

Laurence Roudart

Professor of Agricultural Development, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences, Université libre de Bruxelles

Evolving Regimes of Land Use and Ownership in the West Bank: Between Dispossession, Resistance to it, and Neoliberal Accumulation 

Co-author: Fadia Panosetti

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. 

Laurence Roudart is professor of Agricultural Development in the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences at the Université libre de Bruxelles. She heads the Master in Development Studies and is deputy president of the Department of Social Sciences and Labour Sciences at this University. Her research and teaching focus on matters relating to agricultural policies including land policies, food security policies, food sovereignty, agricultural systems and development. She has carried out fieldwork in Indonesia, Egypt, Senegal, Mali, Burundi and Haiti. She authored, with Marcel Mazoyer, A History of World Agriculture, From the Neolithic Age to the Current Crisis. She is a member of the international advisory board of the Journal of Peasant Studies, and of the steering committee of the journal Mondes en développement. She belongs to the managing commission of the UNESCO chair Shared Challenges of Development: Knowing, Understanding, Acting. She is a member of the advisory committee of Tchak! La revue paysanne et citoyenne qui tranche (Tchak! The peasant and citizen magazine that breaks away).