The High Court of Justice yesterday rejected a petition by former residents of the Galilee village of Ikrit to return to their homes, which they were ordered to evacuate during the 1948 War of Independence.
The three justices accepted the state's claim that Israeli interests, based on a combination of the current security situation and the Palestinians' persistent demand for the right of return of refugees, could not justify the return of the Ikrit refugees.
The state won the case despite a series of promises made by previous governments to the refugees that they would be allowed to return to their village.
Among the documents used by the state in court was an affidavit by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who stressed the "reasons of state" involved in the case.
The court's decision concludes six years of hearings on the issue, and states that former residents who are now Arab citizens of Israel will have the choice of receiving land elsewhere in the country or monetary compensation.
According to the ruling, written by Justice Dalia Dorner, since the issue is mainly political, the state enjoys broad discretion, and the government's stance in this case was reasonable.
However, the court recognized the existence of a "debt of honor" created by the many years of unfulfilled promises that residents would be allowed to return to Ikrit. The court said that in the future, it would be fitting to consider a solution that would enable displaced residents to return to their village, if and when the security and political situation make that possible.
This is the fourth plea made by the former residents of Ikrit. In the current petition, the displaced residents asked the court to order the government to allow them to return to their village, or at least to implement the recommendations of the committee headed by former justice minister David Libai that would enable them to return to parts of the village.
The government claimed that the Palestinian Authority would take advantage of any precedent concerning the return of displaced residents for political and propaganda purposes. The government also claimed that accepting the petition would have far-reaching and strategic implications that would harm Israel's vital interests, because 200,000 other displaced citizens have also demanded they be allowed to return to their former villages.