State to Hinder Removal of Settlers From Private Land

Despite denials, government is covertly carrying out 2012 pro-settlement Levy report's recommendations, including special court for land cases in West Bank.

A file photo of the Amona outpost.
Olivier Fitoussi

Despite the Netanyahu government’s public reluctance to adopt the controversial 2012 Levy Committee Report, which recommended ways to ease the settlement of Jews in the West Bank, some of these recommendations are being put into practice, Haaretz has learned.

The report, written under the supervision of the late Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, examined various legal issues relating to land in the West Bank, and was submitted to the government in July 2012. The report made headlines by concluding that in principle the West Bank is not occupied territory, and it made a number of recommendations for removing obstacles to Jewish settlement there.

At first it seemed as if the government planned to adopt the operative parts of the report and even prepared a draft resolution to this effect, but in the end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feared the response of the international community and backed off.

But unofficially, parts of the Levy report are being carried out. A reduction in the use of the “order for interfering use,” is one example. This order allows the head of the Civil Administration to remove settlers squatting on private land even if no Palestinian complains. It is anathema to the right because it prevents the takeover of land. The Levy report refers to it as a draconian order. The Supreme Court, however, has called it crucial to maintaining order in the region.

While Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has not officially declared that he is doing away with such orders, in practice he has accorded himself the sole authority to issue them — and he isn’t using them (with one exception, because of a petition to the High Court of Justice).

In recent months there has also been staff work conducted on adopting another conclusion of the report — establishment of a court for land issues in the West Bank. The right has long pushed to establish such a court, which would remove the Civil Administration and military lawyers from dealing with land issues, on the baseless claim that they favor the Palestinians. If such a court were established, Palestinians would have to seek legal remedies through it, and the army would not be able to help protect their property, similar to the situation in Israel proper. Needless to say, all the judges on this court would be Israelis.

The report mentions a number of issues to be decided by this court. One is the order on the above-mentioned interfering use, for which a Palestinian land owner would have to petition the land issues court. It should be noted that due to travel restrictions and the ban on Palestinians entering settlements, many of them find it difficult to monitor the status of their lands.

Another issue to be handled by the court would be the procedure for dealing with disputes over private land. This procedure was instituted so soldiers and policemen in the field could know who is permitted to enter a specific area. This procedure is aimed at areas where there are conflicting claims of ownership, as in the south Hebron Hills. Under the future situation envisioned, the Military Prosecution would not be able to issue such guidelines and people would be able to come and go as they please.

A third issue to be addressed by the court concerns proceedings before the High Court of Justice in which the state argues that Palestinians are indeed the owners of a piece of land in dispute. The Levy Report argues, for example, that in the case of Ulpana Hill, the state basically “jumped the gun” with its assertion to this effect. In that case the settlers went to district court and claimed they had purchased the land, but in the end it turned out that the purchase documents had been forged and the settlement housing company Amana withdrew its petition.

“In such cases, all that’s needed is to decide the dispute,” according to the Levy report. “And in cases where it exists, we believe it would be proper to adopt a policy whereby prior to any determination by the state regarding petitions for eviction or demolition, a thorough examination of conflicting claims be conducted by a judicial tribunal dealing with land issues. Pending such determination, state authorities should be instructed to avoid taking any position in land conflicts.” 

Since Levy died in March, there have been calls to adopt the report as part of his legacy. Conversely, attorneys Anu Deuelle-Luski of Yesh Din, and Keren Michaeli of the College of Administration’s Emile Zola Chair for Human Rights, compiled a study analyzing the report, arguing that it is a purely political document.

“The committee totally ignored hundreds of legal rulings by the Supreme Court, dozens of decisions by the United Nations and international tribunals and thousands of articles by experts on international law, which constitute a rare consensus in the legal community regarding the status of the West Bank,” they wrote.