Palestinian Studies

2020 Workshop

Lucy Garbett

PhD Student in Earth and Environmental Science, City University of New York

Land Contestation and Class Formation in Jerusalem: A Tale of Two Families

There is increasing interest in how Palestinians navigate land registration and the multiple legal paradigms with regards to land law . Normally, the zoning of the land would exclude it from planning permission by the Israeli occupation, but several Palestinian families, including the two families examined in this paper, recognized the potential for obtaining planning permission by the Israeli Civil Administration. This possibility, coupled with rising costs of land all over the country, has resulted in increased interest in settled land title (tabu) and sales/investments in land as a form of wealth. In turn, an increasing number of Palestinian families, especially those from Jerusalem, have been registering their land in the Israeli Land Registry at Beit El as a means to cement their claim of ownership to the land in this area. This registration is done under the threat of increasing encroachment of settlements in the area, and an expanding Jerusalem municipality boundary, but for many of these families registration with the Israeli civil administration is done as a prerequisite to any potential and future application of planning permission.

This case is illustrative of the various tools people use in order to assert ownership under such recombinant legal systems. It offers a fascinating window into an often understudied aspect of Palestinian class formation over time, but also to examine the question of ownership with interpretations of Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian, and Israeli land laws since the Oslo accords. In particular it shows how spaces of collaboration, such as military courts, registering land in Israeli registries, and planning and zoning documents under occupation intersect with Palestinian class formation. 

This study will contribute to this growing body of literature to show how those variantly exposed to dispossession use various tools to assert ownership using recombinant legal systems, planning documents and court options. It illustrates the power of land not as a nationalistic imperative but rather as an investment. 

This paper will focus on the case of a land dispute between two Palestinian families in the Beit Jala-Jerusalem municipality border lines. The families first attempt to settle their disputes in the Palestinian courts and then after not receiving a satisfactory settlement attempt to settle the dispute in the Israeli military courts. While initially competing between one another over ownership using performative proof of cultivation (under miri categorisation of the Ottoman Land Code) versus private property documents, the Israeli state responded by confiscating the land for state land using aerial photographs and ‘scientific’ argumentation as a response to the performative cultivation arguments of the families. One of the families responded with an appeal showing proof of a master plan conducted by Beit Jala municipality in 1987, before the Oslo Accords, which was approved by the Israeli Civil Administration. This plan includes the land as part of the municipality and therefore changed the land categorisation from miri to mulk in accordance with Jordanian land law thus nullifying the legal argumentation for the Israeli state confiscation.

The paper will address questions of contemporary ownership in Palestine and their shifting enmeshment within class, political and economic dynamics. It is based on a list of primary and secondary sources. Primary sources include interviews with one of the families in question and access to their legal transcripts and documents, as well as interviews. It will also include information obtained through freedom of information (FOI) requests sent to the Israeli civil administration and historical overview of land laws in Palestine.