Palestinians Petitioning Court to Get Back Jordan Valley Land

Vast tracts of Jordan Valley land owned by petitioners was given to settlers long ago.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Palestinians working at a grove of date palms in the Jordan Valley.
Palestinians working at a grove of date palms in the Jordan Valley. Credit: Michal Fattal
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The High Court of Justice is to hear petitions Monday by Palestinians seeking the return of land they own near the Jordanian border and which was given to Jordan Valley settlers to cultivate.

In 1969, two years after the occupation of the West Bank, the army declared the area between the Jordan-Israel border and the nearby security fence to be a closed military zone barred to Palestinians.

According to Israel Defense Forces documents, the area in question is made up of about 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres) of private Palestinian land registered in the Jordanian land registry. In the 1980s and 1990s, the state allocated these lands to the World Zionist Organization, after an aide to the defense minister, Uri Ben-On, decided in 1981 that that they could be cultivated. In issuing this decision, Ben-On ignored an opinion by the Justice Ministry that prohibited the cultivation of private Palestinian land.

Over the years there has been a sharp rise in the cultivation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers. Aerial photographs published by the Civil Administration show that in 1997, 2,380 dunams of private Palestinian land was cultivated and in 2012, that figure had risen to 5,064 dunams. The lands are mostly used for date plantations.

In January 2013, Haaretz revealed that the land had been given to settlers, and thus this fact became known to the heirs of the Palestinian owners, who 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 claims that the heirs did not present the required inheritance documents and that such a long time has gone by that the reasons for the transfer of the land to Jordan Valley settlers cannot be traced. In any case, the state argued, the fact that the settlers have had possession of the land for so many years “cannot be ignored.”

The State Prosecutor’s Office also said the matter is political and should be presented for discussion before the next government.

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