The High Court of Justice yesterday forbade operating a sewage treatment plant built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra.

The ruling came in response to a petition submitted by Yesh Din on behalf of residents of the Palestinian village of Ein Yabrud against building the plant on their land.

The state admitted to numerous failures in the procedures of setting up the plant, which had indeed been built without the required permits on private land.

However, the state said the region's sewage problems had to be addressed. For this reason the authorities formulated a proposal to confiscate the land for public need, to permit operating the plant, which would also serve the area's Palestinian villages, the state said.

The justices ruled it may not be operated and ordered the state and the Binyamin Regional Council to pay the petitioners' legal expenses.

"An apparently serious criminal affair unfolded in court, in which the government authorities stole, in violation of the law, private Palestinian land and built on it," said Yesh Din legal adviser Michael Sfard. He said the plant was built "with a fictitious building permit, with the investment of millions of shekels."

Apparently the Ofra sewage plant may not be the only one built illegally on private Palestinian land. Left-wing activist Dror Etkes, who took part in gathering the information on the Ofra plant, found that Elkana requested upgrading a sewage plant located on Palestinian land before the procedure of confiscating that land had been completed.

The authorities are now in process of amending and adjusting the procedure so the settlement may operate the plant.