Public purpose

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Legislation in the form of the Israel Lands Authority Law, Amendment 7 (2009) and a 2010 amendment of the British Mandate-era Land Ordinance (Acquisition for Public Purposes) (1943) introduced tactical adjustments to the land tenure system in Israel. The 2009 amendment authorizes more powers to the JNF in its special status and role in land management. It also establishes the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) (no longer “Israel Lands Administration”) with increased powers, provides for the granting of private ownership of lands, and sets approval criteria for the transfer of state lands and Development Authority lands to the JNF. The 2010 amendment “makes sure” that lands expropriated for “public use” do not “revert” to original owners and now can be transferred to a third party (likely the JNF). The 2010 legislation also circumvents the Israeli Supreme Court’s precedent-setting judgment in the 2001 Karsik case,[1] which obliged authorities to return confiscated land in the event it has not been used for the purpose for which it was confiscated.

According to the amendments, the JNF continues to hold large representation in the Israel Lands Authority with six of 13 members (which also can function with just ten members). That ensures JNF’s continued key role ensuring discrimination against indigenous Palestinians in the development of policies and programs affecting 93% of lands in Israel.

These recent amendments allow the state and the JNF to exchange lands, in order to facilitate “development” through the privatization of lands owned by the JNF in urban areas. Such a swap would have the state receive JNF land in urban areas that could be privatized, while the JNF would receive 50–60,000 dunams of land in the Galilee and the Naqab, where the indigenous population of Palestinian citizens of Israel remain most concentrated.

As in the past, the JNF agrees that the new Israel Land Authority will manage its lands, whereas ILA is committed to do so consistent with “the principles of the JNF in regards to its lands” (Article 2). (This is Israeli legislative code, meaning “for the benefit of `Jewish nationals’ only.”) Pooling Israeli government and “national institution” resources, the JNF has committed to contribute 100 million NIS (€20.5 million) from its own sources to further development of the Naqab.

The amendments enable further circumvention of legal oversight and legislate against the equality in land use rights. As the JNF’s charter excludes non-Jews from benefiting from its land or services, any such transfer of public land to the JNF prevents citizens’ equal access to land. In other words, the state will be able more readily to “judaize” more land and discriminate against its non-Jewish citizens in the Naqab and Galilee—and elsewhere—by transferring these lands to the JNF.

The 2010 law appears to prevent—or severely impede—Palestinian citizens of Israel from ever reclaiming their confiscated land. It forecloses such a citizen’s right to demand the return of the confiscated land in the event it has not been used for the public purpose for which it was originally confiscated, if that ownership has been transferred to a third party, or if more than 25 years have passed since its confiscation. For decades have passed since the confiscation of the vast majority of Palestinian land inside the Green Line, while the ownership of large tracts of land has been transferred to third parties, including Zionist institutions such as the Jewish National Fund.

The ILA rationalizes its policy of restricting bids for JNF-owned lands to Jews only by citing the Covenant between the state and the JNF (1961).  Under that agreement, the ILA is obliged to respect the objectives of the JNF, which include the acquisition of land “for the purpose of settling Jews.”[2] Thus, JNF serves as the state’s subcontractor for discrimination based on a constructed “Jewish nationality,” and not Israeli citizenship.

This legal and institutional framework ensures that housing, land, immigration and development rights and values are exclusively for “Jewish nationals” to enjoy.[3] Most indigenous inhabitants of Israeli controlled areas are not Jewish, including the “unrecognized” village residents and citizens in the Naqab.

This complex arrangement equates the concept of development for “public purpose” with development for axiomatically exclusive Jewish use.


[1] H.C. 2390/96 Karsik v. State of Israel 55(2), P.D. 625.

[2] Jewish National Fund Articles of Incorporation, para. 3(1).

[3] Geremy Forman and Alexandre (Sandy) Kedar, “From Arab land to `Israel Lands’: the legal dispossession of the Palestinians displaced by Israel in the wake of 1948,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol. 22 (2004), pp. 809–30.