Israeli soldiers point gun at a Palestinian farmer to force him out of his land in the occupied West Bank town of Tubas. (File photo: AP)
In a major land grab scheme, the head of the Israeli government’s military arm in the occupied West Bank, the so-called Civil Administration, signed on April 12 an order declaring about 22,000 dunums of Palestinian land south of the ancient city of Jericho as a “nature reserve”, according to the Israeli Peace Now movement.
However, the declaration was published only one week ago and it takes effect 60 days after its publication.
This is a huge reserve, the largest that has been declared for 25 years, said Peace Now. Referred to in Hebrew as “Nachal Og Nature Reserve”, it includes 22,000 dunums (5,445 acres) of which about 6,000 dunums are private Palestinian land, another part is state-registered land, and most are lands declared as “state lands” in 1989 as part of a wholesale declaration on tens of thousands of acres in the area.
The meaning of declaring a nature reserve is that in addition to the legal restrictions that normally exist in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli military control, (planning and building laws, etc.), there are additional restrictions that are used to limit Palestinian usage of their lands. For example, owners of land that was declared “nature reserve” cannot cultivate their land, plant any tree or graze their land without approval from the Nature Reserve Officer, said Peace Now.
It said that any declaration of a nature reserve by the head of the Civil Administration must have the prior approval of the Minister of Defense. This means that Defense Minister Benny Ganz chose this route to take over a huge area deep in the West Bank.
“This is not a matter of nature conservation but a matter of taking over land. In the Occupied Territories, nature reserves are one of the many tools Israel uses to dispossess Palestinians of their lands. The Israeli government is losing its shame, and towards what seems to be the end of its political path, it is beginning to run amok and deepen the occupation in every possible way. The occupation cannot be washed away with green colors; The occupation remains a black spot on the State of Israel and it is time to end it,” said the anti-occupation organization.
Since the 1980s, Israel has declared hundreds of thousands of dunums in the West Bank as nature reserves and used them to dispossess Palestinians. Immediately after the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, announcements of new reserves were stopped. In January 2020, then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced his intention to announce seven new nature reserves in the Occupied Territories. Then in October 2020, three reserves were declared in the Jordan Valley area, with a total area of 10,880 dunums (2,693 acres).
To date, said Peace Now, Israel has declared about 48 nature reserves in the West Bank, with a total area of at least 383,600 dunums (95,000 acres), which are about 12% of Area C and about 7% of the entire West Bank.
It added that in addition to the order declaring a nature reserve, there is also a planning procedure, similar to the planning procedure for construction, according to which the Israeli Higher Planning Council approves a detailed plan for the various nature reserves. The situation in the Occupied Territories is that there are 32 valid plans for nature reserves on a total area of 158,000 dunums. Some of these reserves overlap with the declared reserves and some do not.