Israel's High Court Blasts State for Giving Palestinian-owned Land to Settlers

Court Vice-President Naor: 'I don’t understand how this could happen,' when hearing that state in 1990 gave Palestinian-owned land to settlers.

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An IDF firing zone in the Jordan Valley.
An IDF firing zone in the Jordan Valley.Credit: Miki Kratsman

Following a blunt verbal attack on the state’s actions over the course of decades, the High Court of Justice ordered it Monday to show cause why it should not return land in the Jordan Valley to its Palestinian owners, and why those owners should not be permitted to cultivate it.

The approximately 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres), located along the border with Jordan, was given in the 1990s to settlers for cultivation. In January 2013 Haaretz revealed that the Palestinian owners of the land had been banned from the area by military order.

High Court Vice-President Miriam Naor and Justices Daphne Barak-Erez and Menahem Mazuz were sharply critical of the state at the hearing. “I don’t understand how this could happen,” Naor said.

According to the state’s attorney, Roi Shweiki, the state did not know how the land came to be transferred because it happened a long time ago. Barak-Erez asked: “If this is a military zone and people can go in to cultivate it, why can’t the owners go in?”

Mazuz said: “The situation here is in fact clear. You admit that this is private land. You admit that the transfer to Ayala Smith [the settler cultivating the land] ostensibly went against the decision of the Ministerial Committee for Security. So the state’s first obligation is to return the situation to its rightful state.”

The heirs of the Palestinian owners petitioned the High Court in October 2013. The state tried to reach a monetary settlement with the petitioners, but they turned down the offer.

The state’s representatives told the court last week that they do not know why the land was given to the settlers and could not present a position until the issue was brought before the government.

Smith’s attorney, Harel Arnon, said the state believed “one injustice cannot be corrected by another.”

The attorney for the petitioners, Wissam Asmar, said: “A major step has been taken to recognize the right of the owners, whose rights have been trampled by the settlers.”

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