Palestinian land laws
Land ownership in the State of Palestine is governed by local laws that were applicable until the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, international humanitarian law (IHL), the Fourth Geneva Convention, customary international law, and local legislation under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. Land sales to Israelis are considered treason by the Palestinians because they threaten the founding of a future state. Palestinians who sell land to Israelis can be sentenced to death, although death penalties are usually not carried out; a death sentence has to be approved by the president of the Palestinian Authority, and president Mahmoud Abbas has routinely withheld the required approval for executions.
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt during the Six-Day War of 1967. Under international law, Jordanian laws as they existed on 4 June 1967 (the eve of the occupation) are applicable to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Israel as an Occupying Power is obliged to respect these laws.
Shortly after the war, Israel began establishing settlements in these territories in contradiction with legal advice, including from Theodor Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's advisor. In 2005, Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza, but Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, along with their security zones, still account for about 60% of the area. In the West Bank, settlements have continued to slowly grow and as of April 2009, included about 400,000 settlers. All Israeli settlements in the occupied territories (including those in East Jerusalem) have been declared illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this finding.
Transfer of land for Israeli settlements
Since the occupation in 1967, Israel has continuously fostered the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The State has declared Palestinian land "state land" and turned over possession of land of displaced Palestinian owners (so-called "abandoned" or "absentee" property). Israel has furthered the transfer of Israeli citizens on Palestinian land with subsidies for housing settlers, and tax benefits. Palestinian privately owned land has been expropriated for building settlements and settlement bypass roads.
The Negotiations Affairs Department of the State of Palestine (PLO-NAD) declared in 2008, that all transactions with Israelis and other foreigners transferring confiscated land in the Occupied Territories violate international law and are null and void. It stated that under the Hague Regulations an occupant may only administer public property as a usufructuary and does not gain sovereignty or title over any part of occupied territory. Israel thus has no right to sell Palestinian state land, nor does it have a right to lease state land for long periods or for the purpose of settlements. According to the PLO-NAD, the Palestinian government of the future Palestinian state will not be under any obligation to honour Israeli transactions in occupied Palestinian property that took place during Israel’s occupation.
Property transactions under Palestinian law
While Palestinian Authority courts can impose death sentences, they cannot be carried out without the approval of the PA President. The current President, Mahmoud Abbas, has consistently refused to approve executions. In September 2010, a Palestinian court reaffirmed that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death. The Palestine General Prosecution said that the ruling represented "a consolidation of the previous legal principle," and that the "ruling aimed to protect the Palestinian national project to establish an independent Palestinian state."
Sources differ on the number of Palestinians officially executed for the offence, with the Jerusalem Post stating that none have been executed while a BBC report indicates that there have been two executions. However, a number of extrajudicial killings have also taken place since the death penalty was first announced. In May 1997 for example, three Palestinians convicted under the statute were later found murdered. Human Rights Watch argued that the circumstances of the murders "strongly suggested official tolerance if not involvement" by the PA, citing as evidence "inflammatory statements" by PA Justice Minister Frei Abu Medein "which seemed to give a green light to violence against suspected land dealers." Medein is quoted as saying: "... expect the unexpected for these matters because nobody from this moment will accept any traitor who sells his land to Israel."
In 1998, Amnesty International reported that torture of those accused of selling land to Israelis appeared to be systematic, and unlawful killings were also reported against those accused.
An additional consequence has reportedly been increased intimidation of Palestinian Christians, as many ordinary Palestinians have misinterpreted the law to mean prohibition on sale of property not only to Jews but also to any other non-Muslim. This misperception has been fuelled by a number of fatwas issued by Palestinian Muslim clerics in support of the PA's death penalty which fail to distinguish between Jews and Christians, but which simply condemn sale of property to "infidels" (i.e. non-Muslims).
In March 2007, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan arrested two Palestinians accused of selling a house in Hebron to Israelis. According to Hebron's Jewish Committee, "The arrest exposes once again the anti-Semitic nature of the PA. We call upon the government to accept the racial hatred prevalent in the PA." Knesset member Uri Ariel demanded that the government act to secure the release of the arrested Palestinians, while Orit Struk of the committee said the arrest proves that the house legally belongs to the Jewish community.
In 2012, Mohammad Abu Shahala, a former PA intelligence officer, was reportedly sentenced to death for selling land to Jews. The Jewish community of Hebron petitioned the UN, the US, and the Israeli government to step in on Abu Shahala's behalf.
Events in 2009
In early April 2009, it was reported that several Jewish businessmen from the United States purchased 20 dunams (2 hectares) of land from Palestinians in the Mount of Olives area of Jerusalem. The report prompted a Chief Islamic Judge of the Palestinian Authority to remind of an existing fatwa that bans Palestinians from selling property to Jews, which is considered high treason and punishable by death. Fatah legislator Hatem Abdel Kader, an advisor to the PA Prime Minister, asserted that the ban on sale of property to Jews was still necessary as the Israeli government and settlers were mounting a "fierce onslaught" on the Arab sector in East Jerusalem, attempting to alter the demographic balance there by demolishing Palestinian homes. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in the wake of the 1967 war, but the annexation has not been recognized by the international community.
In late April 2009, a Palestinian military court condemned a man to death by hanging for treason after he sold some land to Israelis. The death sentence requires the approval of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is not expected to approve it.
Events in 2012
Osama Hussein Mansour, a retired Palestinian security officer, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority in June 2012 on charges of collaborating with Israel and being involved in land transactions with Israelis. He died in July after falling from a window while being held in Palestinian custody, but it was unclear whether he fell or was pushed. His wife does not believe it was suicide, but rather that he was killed, and stated that she visited him a few days before and he was in good spirits and happy.
- Human rights in the Palestinian National Authority
- Israeli land and property laws
- Treason in the Islamic world
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