Gantz Seeks Delay in Evicting West Bank Settlers, Citing Jewish Agricultural Sabbatical Year

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A Meshek Achiya grove of trees in a 2010 photo.
A Meshek Achiya grove of trees in a 2010 photo.Credit: Moti Milrod

Defense Minister Benny Gantz submitted a request to the High Court of Justice on Sunday seeking to delay the eviction and relocation of settlers from West Bank agricultural land. The appeal was based on so-called shmita restrictions imposed by halakha, Jewish religious law, which prohibits the cultivation of land during the current Jewish year.

The court ordered the eviction after ruling that eight Palestinians who filed the case proved ownership of land at the site, involving some 170 dunams (43 acres) of land in the West Bank’s Shilo Valley. 

In May, the High Court ordered Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank to clear the land, which has been cultivated by Meshek Achiya, one of the largest and best-known farms in the settlements. It gave the government until October to have the site vacated.

Gantz’s adviser on settlement affairs, Avi Roeh, then conducted negotiations with Meshek Ahiya and obtained the farm’s consent to leave the land voluntarily in exchange for land within Israel’s sovereign borders, rather than the West Bank, and for the transfer of the olive trees to the new site at the farm’s expense.

The request said its was being filed due to the ban observed by religious Jews on working the land and planting seedlings during the Jewish year that began last week on Rosh Hashanah. The defense minister asked for the court to delay the move until February 2023, four months after the shmita year ends.

“Given the halakhic prohibition that prevents working the land during shmita year 5782, the farmers will assume responsibility to prepare the alternate plots immediately after the year is over, to move the trees now at the site and to do everything necessary for the complete evacuation of all the land that is subject to the court ruling,” the request states.

The February 2023 date was requested to accommodate “the halakhic limitations of the shmita year, the amount of time needed to carry out the process of allocating the land and the period of time required to prepare the alternate plots, which can only begin once the shmita year ends,” the request says, adding that it has been submitted to comply with the court order while avoiding the public disturbance that a forced eviction might entail.

For her part, Quamar Mishirqi, a lawyer from the Haqel human rights organization who represents the Palestinian petitioners, condemned the request, calling it “another stinking deal” that the government has made with “intruders” that shows contempt for the court ruling and is an effort on the state’s part to provide an incentive for theft.

The request has not yet been ruled on.