Build the Road or Return the Land? State Refusing to Do Either

After initially claiming it could not build a road on Palestinian land expropriated for that purpose, the state has reversed its position: It now claims it can't give the land back to its owners because it needs to build a road.

This about-face came to light at a High Court of Justice hearing on a petition of residents of the West Bank village of Ein Arik, west of Ramallah, whose land was confiscated by the state about 10 years ago. The land was taken for the sake of building a shorter road to Jerusalem for the settlers of Dolev and Talmon, but work stopped due to the second intifada, which eroded the security situation in the area.

In 2007, the settlers petitioned the High Court, asking it to force the state to find a way to shorten their travel time. The state said in response that the planned road would have been too dangerous to travel. In 2009, Justices Asher Grunis, Salim Joubran and Miriam Naor sided with the state, saying the court found no reason to intervene in the state's decision to discontinue construction of the road.

West Bank
Nir Keidar

This ruling prompted the residents of Ein Arik to petition the court, via the Yesh Din organization and lawyers Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zecharia, and demand to have the land returned to them. Since the state has declared it has no intention of building the road, they argued, the reason for the expropriation is null and void, and the land must be returned.

Last week, the state submitted its response to the court - from which it emerges that the state's position has changed once again. "Studies are being conducted to establish an updated position on whether a road needs to be constructed," it said. Therefore, it will not cancel the expropriation orders, but will investigate further and submit the results to the army's GOC Central Command for consideration.

"We stand astonished yet again at the state's absurd position," said Zecharia. "On one hand, it tells the court it won't use the expropriated land, and on the other hand, it refuses to return the land to its owners, as both the law and common sense require. It seems the state is willing to do anything to avoid giving land back to Palestinians."