Selling government land in Gaza raises eyebrows

Hamas says its Ministry of Finance in the Gaza Strip plans to sell a plot of government land, which some experts say is illegal.

al-monitor A Palestinian employee moves land registry files at the Gaza Land Authority in Gaza City, Gaza, June 19, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Salem.

Sep 11, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Ministry of Finance in the Gaza Strip is advertising that its Land Authority will sell the site of the police station in Sheikh Radwan, west of Gaza City. The announcement earlier this month raised many questions about the legality of such a sale.

The Land Authority in the Gaza Strip is a government body responsible for all official transactions of government and public lands.

Safi al-Mahdouh, a lawyer focusing on land affairs, told Al-Monitor that the applicable law in the Palestinian territories prohibits selling government land without a direct authorization from the head of state. "Such transactions must be directly authorized by the head of state, which is referred to in the law as the high representative,” Mahdouh added.

Hassan Abu Riala, deputy director of the Gaza Strip Land Authority, told Al-Monitor the sale announcement was made after the Gaza government ordered the Land Authority to sell the site. He refused to answer further questions, saying, “I suggest you speak to the Ministry of Interior, which is the competent authority. The Land Authority is only instructed to make the sale.”

The head of the Land Authority in the West Bank, Mousa Shakarna, told Al-Monitor, “All we know is that Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is the one assigning the sale and purchase decisions of governmental land to the current Palestinian government. This should only happen by virtue of the law and needs to be directly authorized by President Mahmoud Abbas. A Cabinet in Gaza is an illegitimate entity and its decisions are invalid.”

He added, “No government entity may sell state property except in accordance with Palestinian law. The Land Authority can allocate, authorize and use government land for public interest only."

Shakarna said the Land Authority in Gaza apparently is acting under a law Hamas amended in 2015. At that time, the Hamas government in Gaza had distributed government land to its employees as an alternative to the salaries they had not been receiving for more than three years. Both the land distributions and the amendment itself were illegal, he said.

Hamas representatives in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in the Gaza Strip were the only ones to approve the amendment; it was never presented to the rest of the PLC members in Gaza and the West Bank. The amendment only requires the formation of a higher committee from Hamas ministries to buy and sell government land.

Shakarna is warning citizens not to buy the land, because the contracts won't be legal.

Bayan Bakr, spokesman for the Ministry of Finance in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that money made from the sale of the Sheikh Radwan land will be used to build a new police station on land that was previously allocated by the Land Authority. The latter plot is larger than the one for sale and farther away from overcrowded areas. The current location could pose a threat to citizens should anyone attack the station.

He added, “We have followed official procedures in announcing the sale of the land. We have received a letter from the Land Authority in Gaza stating that the Ministry of Interior in Gaza has abandoned the land of the Sheikh Radwan station and that the Land Authority intends to sell it. We have abided by the procedures usually applied in announcing the bidding in newspapers.”

Interior Ministry spokesman in Gaza Iyad al-Bozm told Al-Monitor the ministry has nothing to do with the sale and purchase process, noting that it is only concerned with providing another station for the one being sold. “The Land Authority informed us of allocating new land for the station and intending to sell the current one. We have no further information here at the Ministry of Interior,” he added.

Shakarna called for suspending all sales procedures and allocating new land for the new station without selling the old one.

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