Israeli High Court Denies Palestinians’ Petition to Recover Lands Being Farmed by Settlers

Israeli army seized Jordan Valley land in the late 1960s and some was later given to settlers. High Court tried to persuade petitioners to accept compensation, but that offer was rejected

A date grove in the Jordan Valley in 2012 (illustrative).
Moti Milrod

The High Court of Justice on Thursday denied a petition filed by Palestinians who were demanding that lands they own in the Jordan Valley that are being cultivated by settlers be returned to them.

During the hearing, the court tried to persuade the Palestinians to accept financial compensation rather than the land, which is officially in a closed military zone. But when they refused, the justices ruled against them.

The petition was filed in 2013 by a group of Palestinians following a Haaretz report that settlers were cultivating land that had been seized by military order in the late 1960s. The land is situated between a security fence and the actual Jordanian border.

During the 1980s, the lands were given to the World Zionist Organization with the support of a legal opinion by the State Prosecutor’s Office and the approval of then-IDF Central Command commander Amram Mitzna. WZO then allocated the land to settlers. The largest area, some 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres), is now a date grove.

The Palestinians had been distanced from the region back in the 1960s, but after the Haaretz report they petitioned the High Court, demanding that the land be restored to them. In July, the justices asked the state and settlers to submit “a document that includes an assessor’s opinion and a calculation for the purposes of a compromise,” in “an effort to bring the sides to an agreement.” It was an unusual proposal offering compensation for land.

The ruling, delivered by justices Isaac Amit, Menachem Mazuz and Anat Baron, read: “Given that the military closure order that applies to the region includes the area that is the subject of the petition, an order that was not challenged by the petition, ... we came to the conclusion that as long as the order is in force, the remedies requested cannot be given in the framework of the petition.

“In any event,” they continued, “we did not need the respondents’ arguments regarding the identity of the petitioners mentioned as the heirs of the deceased and who, according to the inheritance orders attached, number 34 different heirs.”

They also wrote, “During the hearings, we tried to bring the parties to an agreement under which the heirs would get financial compensation for the unfavorable situation in which they found themselves. Unfortunately, the arrangement did not help and we cannot attribute this to the respondents,” meaning the state and settlers.

The justices stressed that “there is nothing in this ruling that prevents the petitioners from petitioning for the annulment of the military closure order or to petition against the use of the land by the respondents.”