An Israel Defense Forces decision to allow a Palestinian farmer to work a contested field near the West Bank settlement of Shiloh was overturned in an interim court ruling this week that also questioned the army's authority to reach a decision on other such land disputes.
"It's not clear what the legal standing" of the army's decision is, ruled Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Shimon Fineberg.
In what appears to be a major victory for settlers, he overturned the IDF decision to allow the farmer from the Palestinian village of Krayot to claim the field, where Shiloh resident Moshe Moskowitz said he has been farming since 1980. The court ordered the army to allow Moskowitz to work there.
According to an 1858 Ottoman law that is still in effect, anyone who spends more than a decade working land that does not have a clear previous owner becomes the recognized owner of the property.
The IDF said records showed the Krayot resident had paid property tax on the land, which is near Route 60, while Moskowitz did not present any documents showing ownership.
"The administrative decision was based on the evidence presented," the IDF Spokesman's Office said. "The administrative decision was not intended to determine property rights, and solely provides access to property until the rights are sorted out. The decision made it clear that it is not a substitute for a judicial ruling and that each party is eligible to go to court."
Until now, the IDF's legal advisers have investigated opposing property claims and the army has decided who will be allowed to work the land.
The Palestinian farmer brought a complaint to the IDF with the aid of Rabbis for Human Rights, saying the land belongs to him. The army decided he should be granted access to the land.
Moskowitz - along with the Regavim advocacy group, which says it is dedicated to preserving "state lands" - appealed to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.
"We hope that the court's ruling in the Moskowitz case will [serve as] a clear warning" to the army, said Regavim director Yehuda Eliyahu. The Palestinian farmer's lawyer said the decision was hard to understand.
"The judge's decision regarding the Krayot village land provides a new opening for the theft of privately owned Palestinian property," he said. "Every settler will now be able to demand Palestinian land. ... The judge's decision is difficult to understand, when he himself says the settler didn't present even a shred of evidence showing his ownership of the land over many years."
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