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Israel Supreme Court: Settlers can no longer gain possession of land by farming it

00:00 Mar 21 2012 West Bank

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Large tracks of West Bank land are farmed by settlers under the aegis of an old Ottoman law - the new ruling will allow the Civil Administration to order their eviction.

By Chaim Levinson for Haaretz

The Israeli Supreme Court set a precedent on Tuesday ruling that an Ottoman law, under which settlers could get custody of agricultural land by showing they had been farming it for a decade or longer, was not enough to grant ownership of the land.

The case in question involved a petition against Michael Lessens, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, who had been working a plot of land close to the settlement. The head of the Civil Administration issued an order stating he had illegally taken possession of the land and evicting him from it.

Lessens petitioned the Military Appeals Committee to overturn the order, explaining that under the law in place, since he had been working the land for over ten years, he legally owns it. The committee accepted his petition and over-turned the civil administration’s order.

In response to the committee’s decision, the Palestinian owners of the land, assisted by Yesh Din, petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the committee’s decision. They were later joined in the petition by the State Prosecutor’s Office.

On Tuesday, Dorit Beinish, former president of the Supreme Court, issued her decision in the case, supported by judges Miriam Naor and Edna Arbel, accepting the plaintiffs’ appeal. According to the court ruling it is not enough to invade land and hold it for over ten years - the land needs to be “honestly taken.”

Large tracks of land in the West Bank are farmed by settlers under the aegis of the Ottoman law. The new ruling will allow the Civil Administration to order their eviction.
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