The High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected a petition from 2012 against Jewish settlers taking over Palestinian lands close to the settlement of Sussia in the West Banks’s southern Hebron Hills, saying the incursion is not fresh and therefore the Israel Defense Forces and Civil Administration cannot be forced to take administrative measures against the settlers.
This decision represents a reversal of the approach of prosecutors and courts in recent years. A court ruling from 2011 established that given that the IDF prevented Palestinians access to their lands for years, Israelis using the lands must prove that they are doing so in good faith and must present deeds proving that the land was legally purchased. Under this decision, Israelis cannot refer to the statute of limitations or that they have worked and maintained the land to avoid being removed.
But this time, Justices Miriam Naor, Zvi Zylbertal and Uzi Vogelman based their decision on the Civil Administration’s stance, according to which the settlers have controlled the land for more than five years.
The petition, filed by attorneys Quamar Mishirqi-Asad and Avital Sharon from Rabbis for Human Rights, related to some 300 dunams (about 75 acres) of land claimed by Hushiye from Yatta family and located between the settlement of Sussia and the unapproved outpost Mitzpeh Yair, where access to pastureland in the area has been prevented.
Attorney Amir Fisher, representing the settlement of Sussia, the Har Hevron Regional Council and three Israeli citizens, said that Sussia resident Yair Har Sinai (who was murdered in 2011) bought the land in question in 1990 and later received permission from the World Zionist Organization to graze animals on several thousand dunams that were declared “state lands.”
Judge Naor said that Har Sinai’s heir, Dalia Har Sinai, and two other respondents — Ofir Avidan and Elad Movshowitch — did not produce “any documents that apparently demonstrate purchase, and it was not noted from whom the land was acquired or its borders”
Naor also wrote in her verdict, “It is difficult not to say that the claims raised by the appellants look to be vague.”
On the other hand, she wrote that the petitioners did not present the court with “sufficient evidence so that it will be possible to rule regarding the ownership of the land in question,” although “on the administrative level it appears that the petitioners have sufficient linkage to the area discussed in the petition.”
The petitioners presented to the court tax-payment vouchers for the land under their control.
Unlike in the northern West Bank and Ramallah area, in the southern West Bank, the Jordanians did not manage to complete the process of registering lands before the Israeli conquest in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel stopped the process, so that many Palestinian families do not have “proper” documentation proving ownership of their property. This reality made it easier for Israel to declare hundreds of thousand dunams in the West Bank state lands over the years.
Naor noted a contradiction by the petitioners, who on one hand said the IDF and settlers did not allow access to the land during the second intifada, and on the other hand, said that the farmers managed to work their lands.
Ultimately, the stance of the Civil Administration, which Naor described as neutral — that there is evidence that 300 dunams of land was farmed by Israelis since 2002 (although not before then) — won out.
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