IDF Petitions Over State's Ottoman Land Law in West Bank

The Israel Defense Forces commander in the West Bank and the legal adviser in the region filed a High Court of Justice petition against the military appeals committee and a foundation that purchases West Bank land for settlements. The state prosecution, which is representing the petitioners, is asking the High Court to issue an interim order suspending land registration procedures enacted in accordance with the appeals committee.

The petition expresses an objection to a decision the military appeals committee made several months ago to accept two appeals by the Keren Leyad Midreshet Eretz Yisrael, which buys land to build and expand settlements, and to have the group be listed as the owner of several parcels of land near the settlement of Alfei Menashe. Palestinians from the West Bank village of Thalat, near Nebi Samuel, say the land belongs to them.

"This petition is a rare petition," said Avi Licht, representing the state prosecution. "It's not every day that the petitioners file a petition against an entity operating in the Judea and Samaria region. To us, the rarity of the petition indicates its fundamental importance. This petition has been authorized by the attorney general."

The decision of the appeals committee is based on an Ottoman land law from 1858 that states that working and maintaining land for 10 years conveys ownership of that land, even if it was originally stolen from others. This means that settlers can take over Palestinian land whose owners are prevented from reaching it, whether by the settlers themselves or by military order, and eventually register the land under their names.

The prosecution argues that the appeals committee has made a legal error "that is so fundamental that due to its significant ramifications for public order in the region, it cannot remain standing."

The petitioners say the appeals committee decision is liable to set a precedent of misuse of registration procedures in order to allow settlers to take over land owned by others, and warn that it flies in the face of international law. The petition says many Palestinians left their West Bank land after the Six-Day War, but have difficulty reaching their land now, especially if the land is located near Jewish areas.

"We think this interpretation by the appeals committee also contravenes international law, which does not allow a military commander to transfer perpetual rights to land that is state land," the petition states. "The appeals committee decision is not even in line with the existing law. It contradicts its purpose, as well as basic common sense, which holds that people can't be granted a right unfairly."