The Nakba Files presents an original English translation of Military Order 58: Order on Abandoned Properties (Private Property), which was promulgated by the Israeli military command in the West Bank on 23 July 1967, at the dawn of the occupation of that territory.

Military Order 58 is modeled on one of the most important laws institutionalizing the Nakba, namely the 1950 Absentees’ Property Law, which legalized the confiscation of lands belonging to the 700,000 Palestinians made refugees by the establishment of the state of Israel. Both legal texts give the government enormous latitude to declare Palestinian private properties as “abandoned” and then to take them over. The Absentees’ Property Law applies to territories Israel considers as its own; Military Order 58 essentially exports the powers of that law to the occupied West Bank.

Unlike the Absentees’ Property Law, Military Order 58 has not yet been extensively used to seize large quantities of Palestinian land, at least compared to the Absentees’ Property Law. This is in part because most of the Palestinian population in the West Bank was not ethnically cleansed after 1967, unlike those who came under Israeli control in the 1948 war.

It is also worth noting that most of the settlements built since 1967 have been on “public” Palestinian land rather than private property. Under the international law of occupation, the occupying power is absolutely forbidden from confiscating private property but can in some cases expropriate public land. Israel has generally exploited this state of affairs by taking advantage of every possible pretext to classify land it has seized as public, even by making the registration of private land more difficult for Palestinians or taking private lands by “mistake.” Whatever lip service Israel pays to the principle that private land should not be seized, however, can be easily swept aside by Military Order 58, especially as Israeli settlements in the West Bank continue to expand and available public land reserves dwindle.

For more background on Military Order 58, see Suhad Bishara, “Who Has the ‘Right’ to Steal Palestinian Land?