30 Years After Illegal Takeover, High Court Orders Settlers Out of Palestinian Land

12:00 Nov 8 2023 Jordan Valley (غور الأردن)

30 Years After Illegal Takeover, High Court Orders Settlers Out of Palestinian Land
The plot of land in the West Bank near the border with Jordan, which was illegally given to settlers by the Israeli government, in 2021. Credit: Moti Milrod Published by Haaretz

Israeli settlers have been growing dates on the land, which the court ruled was illegally handed over to them. The cultivation was done 'not only done in violation of international law and the government's declared policy, [but] even contrary to halakhic law,' the court said

by Hagar Shezaf for Haaretz
Nov 9, 2023 6:40 pm IST

Israel's High Court ordered settlers on Wednesday to clear out of about 1,000 dunams (1 square kilometer) of private Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley, decades after it was illegally handed over to Israeli settlers.

The court accepted the petition filed five years ago by 20 Palestinian landowners but gave the settlers seven years to complete the evacuation.

The settlers have been growing dates on the land for the past 30 years, having received them from the state illegally. As things stand, the army forbids the Palestinian landowners from entering the plot, but allows the settlers to enter and work the plantation.

The lands, near the border with Jordan, were occupied by Israel after the Six Day War and declared a closed military zone in 1968, barring their owners' access to them.

In the 1980s, the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division allocated the land to settlers illegally. The land takeover was first reported in Haaretz in 2013, and in 2018 a petition was filed on behalf of landowners from the Nablus area by attorney Wissam George Asmar.

Justice Dafna Barak-Erez criticized the state in her ruling, writing that the lands' cultivation "was not only done in violation of international law, but also in violation of the government's declared policy and even contrary to halakhic law.

At this stage, there is no dispute that neither state officials nor the Settlement Division were acting within their power when they allocated the land for the purpose of agricultural use of those who do not own it.” Barak-Erez further criticized the state for failing to document the land allocation and its conditions, calling it a "disturbing reality."

During the proceedings, the state noted that it had found documents indicating that legal authorities had indeed expressed opposition in the past to the private land's cultivation. Later, the state said that the land in question was given to the World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division without a contract.

The judges noted in their ruling that the order of evacuation does not indicate that the land's use, past and present, should be free of charge. This opens the door for the petitioners to sue for compensation. The court ordered the state and the Settlement Division to bear the petitioners’ court expenses, and they are expected to pay NIS 20,000 each.

Asmar, the petitioners' lawyer, told Haaretz: “The ruling does justice to the private owners of the land and upholds the High Court's position as an independent court capable of preserving the rights of residents and landowners, while emphasizing the right to property that should not be harmed.”
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