Guest Blog by Ruth Cape

Ruth works for Community Land Scotland although she writes here in a personal capacity. During the summer of 2009, she spent six weeks volunteering at the Tent of Nations farm in the West Bank, Palestine.

“We refuse to be enemies” is the sentiment upon which the Tent of Nations project in Palestine is built. Painted on a stone which greets every visitor to the Nassar family farm, where the project is based, the phrase encaptures the deep sense of humanity, resolution and faith which emanates from the 100 acres of land and the family who own it.

At 8am on Monday 19th May 2014, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) bulldozers arrived unannounced – presumably rolling past the Nassar’s defiant welcoming statement – and proceeded to destroy between 1,500 and 2,000 mature, fruit-bearing apricot trees, apple trees and grape vines in the lower valley of the farm.

Resting on a hill six miles southwest of Bethlehem in the Occupied Territories of Palestine (the West Bank), the Nassar family hold registration papers for this land dating back to the Ottoman Empire. For over 20 years now, the family have been fighting a legal battle to prove their ownership of the land. For over 20 years they have been challenged by knock-backs, obstacles and violent provocations. The attack at the beginning of last week comes while their latest case for proving ownership has been in the Israeli Military/Civil Courts since February 2013.

Image: The valley before and after the bulldozers arrived.

In 2001 the Nassars set up the Tent of Nations peace project on their farm; a project committed to building intercultural cooperation and understanding; to promoting dialogue and non-violence and to highlighting the connection between people and land. As a volunteer in 2009 (planting and harvesting many of the trees now destroyed), I was struck by the family’s steadfast resolve to remain on their farm despite the pressure to have it evacuated and claimed as Israeli State Land. I noted in a blog during my time there the “shuwe, shuwe” (“slowly, slowly”) attitude to the Nassar’s work; commenting that it “sums up their calm, thoughtful and sustained approach to dealing with an intense and emotional situation.” Such an approach couldn’t be more necessary now as they cope with this latest act of oppression; as ever – they are rising to the occasion with dignity and hope.

In addition to the destruction of the trees, the terraced land on which the trees were planted was also destroyed and left in a state of rubble which cannot currently be re-planted. Having generated income from the fruit of the mature trees, the family are faced with an attack on their livelihood as well as their property. As advised by their lawyer, the Nassars are now appealing for compensation; critically, they are also appealing to have the demolition orders which remain on the tents, compost toilets & other structures on the farm removed. They have asked for international awareness to be raised and for the international community to support their case and to understand that the injustices they face are representative of the oppression faced by the wider Palestinian population.

If you’d like to take action to support the Nassar family and hold the Israeli Military and Government to account for its actions, please write to your MP using this standard letter – doc and rtf.

See the Tent of Nations website Facebook and twitter for more information and updates.

 

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (direct link here) were adopted on 11 May 2012 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Committee on World Food Security following a three-year process of development by 700 delegates from 133 countries.

The Guidelines have been endorsed by Governments around the world and were most recently supported by the 2013 G8 Summit in Lough Erne and featured in Sections 43-45 of the G8 Communique. The UK Government is actively following the Guidelines in relation to its overseas development programmes as highlighted in its 2013 G8 Presidency Report (pg14). The map below shows the countries where the UK is engaged in land governance projects. See the Land Governance Programme Map for further information.

As stated in the Preface,

The purpose of these Voluntary Guidelines is to serve as a reference and to provide guidance to improve the governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests with the overarching goal of achieving food security for all and to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security.

These Guidelines are intended to contribute to the global and national efforts towards the eradication of hunger and poverty, based on the principles of sustainable development and with the recognition of the centrality of land to development by promoting secure tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries and forests.

One of the most interesting thing about the Guidelines is that they are global in scope. For too long, many so-called developed countries have developed policies and guidelines which they enthusiastically promote in other countries but when asked whether such practices are adopted at home, they look sheepish. Twenty years ago I remember engaging the UK representative at a UN meeting about the millions of pounds being given to promote the transfer of control of state forests to local communities in the Highlands of Nepal when, at the same time, the Scottish Office was in open opposition to any such efforts in Scotland. So, it is welcome to read that,

Taking into consideration the national context, they may be used by all countries and regions at all stages of economic development and for the governance of all forms of tenure, including public, private, communal, collective, indigenous and customary. (2.4)

They can thus be applied to Scotland. Professor James Hunter highlighted their significance in his discussion paper for Community Land Scotland, Rights-based land reform in Scotland: Making the case in the light of International experience (see here for further info). The Guidelines form a very useful template for any tenure reform here. For example,

11.2 ……..States should take measures to prevent undesirable impacts on local communities, indigenous peoples and vulnerable groups that may arise from, inter alia, land speculation, land concentration and abuse of customary forms of tenure. States and other parties should recognize that values, such as social, cultural and environmental values, are not always well served by unregulated markets. States should protect the wider interests of societies through appropriate policies and laws on tenure.

14. Restitution

14.1 Where appropriate, considering their national context, States should consider providing restitution for the loss of legitimate tenure rights to land, fisheries and forests. States should ensure that all actions are consistent with their existing obligations under national and international law, and with due regard to voluntary commitments under applicable regional and international instruments. 14.2 Where possible, the original parcels or holdings should be returned to those who suffered the loss, or their heirs, by resolution of the competent national authorities. Where the original parcel or holding cannot be returned, States should provide prompt and just compensation in the form of money and/or alternative parcels or holdings, ensuring equitable treatment of all affected people.

15. Redistributive reforms

15.1 Redistributive reforms can facilitate broad and equitable access to land and inclusive rural development. In this regard, where appropriate under national contexts, States may consider allocation of public land, voluntary and market based mechanisms as well as expropriation of private land, fisheries or forests for a public purpose.

15.2 States may consider land ceilings as a policy option in the context of implementing redistributive reforms.

15.3 In the national context and in accordance with national law and legislation, redistributive reforms may be considered for social, economic and environmental reasons, among others, where a high degree of ownership concentration is combined with a significant level of rural poverty attributable to lack of access to land, fisheries and forests respecting, in line with the provisions of Section 15, the rights of all legitimate tenure holders. Redistributive reforms should guarantee equal access of men and women to land, fisheries and forests.

I look forward to seeing what the Land Reform Review Group (due to publish its findings next week) makes of this important international agreement and whether the Scottish Government intends to join the long list of administrations committed to putting the Guidelines into practice.

Image: Allan MacRae, John Mackenzie, Michael Forsyth and Bill Ritchie 1993

When I first became interested in land rights in Scotland, I remember reading an article in Crann-tara in 1978 by Danus Skene in which he observed

It once befell me, while working in East Africa, to read widely concerning land tenure in Africa and its relation to problems of social and economic development. These days I often find myself stressing two items of African experience that seem to bear more than passing relevance to Scotland. First, no country with so inequitable a land distribution as Scotland would ever receive a jot or tittle of overseas aid in the rural sector. Second, any country with such a land distribution and with much of the landownership in alien hands would, anywhere but Scotland, be facing a revolutionary phase. Why should what is unacceptable in Rhodesia or imperial Ethiopia be of no consequence in Ross-shire?

I recalled this as Community Land Scotland convened a seminar last week at Bunchrew, outside Inverness exploring the international context for land reform in Scotland and, in particular, the rights-based approach to development.

Prior to 1997, the UN, governments and NGOs based most of their development programmes on a ‘basic needs’ approach. Since then, however, and following the UN Secretary-General’s 1997 Programme for Reform, human rights is now a cross-cutting theme of all UN activity and the rights-based approach is now being adopted by donors and NGO’s as the framework within which to plan development assistance.

Following an international conference on community land rights in 2013, delegates from international agencies, human rights groups explored these issues with activists from across Scotland in two days of very productive discussions that will inform the debate in the years ahead. Out of this emerged the Bunchrew Declaration which is reproduced in full below.

David Cameron, the Chair of Community Land Scotland said,

We have had a very valuable meeting with other Scottish, UK, EU and international land reform interests over two days last week. By referencing ourselves to what has and is happening internationally in land reform you are forcefully reminded that land reform has been and remains a cause that is legitimately pursued to empower communities and win a more people centred approach to land governance. Far from land reform being just the interest of a small group of radicals, as it is often portrayed, in fact land reform is a mainstream international cause in which the UN and national governments around the world are actively engaged.

When you meet with others out-with Scotland, you are also reminded just how far behind the rest of Europe Scotland is in land reform, most countries having brought about greater land justice in centuries past.

We have left the meeting with renewed commitment to bring about land justice through land reform and the legitimacy of the cause, and we are pledged to learn from and work with others to bring this about.”

Michael Taylor of the International Land Coalition observed that,

Like any country facing high concentrations of land ownership, challenging this structure also means challenging the concentration of economic and political power with which land ownership is so intertwined. Community Land Scotland is now setting its sights internationally; on learning from land reform movements in other countries and on linking in with global processes that can support their cause.

Community Land Scotland’s efforts are simultaneously a national and a local struggle; nationally in gaining political and public support for land reform, and locally in demonstrating the tangible benefits to communities of moving from being tenants to being landowners. Their achievements, and of the many that work with them, are impressive.”

Some of the thinking developed at the meeting was stimulated by a very interesting paper written by Professor James Hunter – Rights-based land reform in Scotland: Making the case in the light of international experience. Copy here (762 kb pdf)

Rhoda Grant MSP has tabled motion S4M-09502 in the Scottish Parliament as follows.

That the Parliament congratulates Community Land Scotland on the publication of the Bunchrew Land Declaration; supports the renewed commitment that it makes to what it considers the just cause of further land reform in Scotland, including in the Highlands and Islands; notes its reference to Scotland having yet to take the decisive action of other European countries to bring about more equitable patterns of land ownership; further notes its call to established land ownership interests to recognise the manifest unfairness of current land ownership patterns in Scotland, and welcomes its reference to more people-centred land governance and the achievement of land justice in Scotland.

Bunchrew Land Declaration

This declaration was adopted following a meeting at Bunchrew House, by Inverness, Scotland on 19 and 20 March 2014 involving land policy and reform interests from Scotland, the rest of the UK and internationally and which explored land reform in Scotland within an international context and with particular reference to the achievement of greater social justice and the realisation of human rights.

Community Land Scotland:

having shared the experience of land ownership in Scotland, the effects of that ownership being in the hands of so few people, and its impact in contributing to the decline of communities historically and today, and in denying opportunity for more people and communities to take responsibility for and share in the bounty of the land;

having explored the parallels with land reform internationally and the solidarity felt with peoples facing dispossession of and clearance from their lands today;

knowing Scotland lags behind land reform interventions which in Europe delivered greater land justice in past centuries;

understanding the impacts on bio-diversity and on the degradation of land caused by land uses favoured by many current owners in Scotland;

desiring to achieve more people-centred local land governance arrangements;

recognising the relevance and legitimacy of international legal frameworks, obligations and guidance to Scotland for change in land governance arrangements to help tackle land injustice and secure more sustainable futures for its people;

aware of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure 2012;

conscious of the possibilities flowing from the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights to contributing to deliver change;

mindful of the consideration and scrutiny of the Scottish land reform question within the Land Reform Review Group within Scotland, and the Scottish Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament, and the development of the Community Empowerment Bill;

whereas calling for established land ownership interests to recognise the manifest unfairness of current land ownership patterns;

Community Land Scotland:

re-affirms with renewed strength its commitment to pursue the just cause of establishing new land ownership patterns in Scotland;

cites international and inter-governmental agreements in helping give legitimacy to nation states intervening in land ownership arrangements to create greater fairness and land justice;

anticipates thus empowering more people and communities to negotiate with current land-owners to take ownership and responsibility for land and associated assets, such as housing, bringing a people centred approach to land governance in support of the common good;

associates itself with terms of the Antigua Declaration adopted by the International Land Coalition in 2013;

pledges to work in collaboration with others active in Scotland, the rest of the UK, and internationally, in pursuing policies to secure greater land ownership justice;

undertakes to learn from others what it is appropriate to learn and apply in Scotland;

offers to contribute to wider land reform movements and nations the Scottish experience in seeking to establish new land ownership patterns to serve the public interest, in combatting decline, expanding opportunity, developing stronger, more resilient, empowered and sustainable local communities and economies, and to achieve greater social justice.

Community Land Scotland
20 March 2014