Israel Admits It Erred in Using Private Palestinian Land for Settlement Homes

State tells High Court that expropriation of some land in Ofra was a mistake; lots will be returned to Palestinian owners, says petitioners’ lawyer.

Chaim Levinson

The state has admitted to the High Court of Justice that it mistakenly expropriated 45 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land in the settlement of Ofra. It now plans to revise the settlement’s master plan to exclude these areas.

Houses have already been built on some of this land, and the Palestinian owners intend to demand they be removed.

The roots of the error date back to 1966, when the Jordanian government, which controlled the West Bank from 1948-67, expropriated an area of several hundred dunams. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, and in the 1970s it declared those several hundred dunams state land in order to legalize the establishment of Ofra.

Many years later, Palestinians petitioned the High Court against Ofra’s new master plan, saying they owned part of the land the plan encompasses. In a response to the petition submitted earlier this week, the state admitted that the 45 dunams in question were expropriated erroneously.

A map of the West Bank settlement of Ofra. The private is Palestinian land highlighted in purple.
Justice Ministry

The mistake stemmed from the fact that when Jordan expropriated the area, it didn’t handle all the lots in the same way. Some were expropriated in full, but others were divided in two, with half the plot expropriated and the other half remaining under private ownership. When Israel took over the land in the1970s, however, it simply declared the entire area state land, thereby erroneously seizing 45 dunams that were privately owned.

Now that the error has been discovered, the brief said, the state has decided to revise the master plan to exclude those 45 dunams. It will also freeze the land registration process for the relevant lots until the revised plan has been submitted and approved.

Attorney Tawfique Jabareen, who represents the Palestinian petitioners, said this means the lots will be returned to their Palestinian owners.

Jabareen said it isn’t clear how many houses have been built on these lots, since it isn’t yet clear which part of each lot will remain state land and which will be returned. Nevertheless, he said, it’s clear that at least some houses have been built there, given that some of the lots in question are located in the heart of the settlement.

He added that the Palestinian owners will file a new petition to the court to demand the evacuation of those homes.

Left-wing activist Dror Etkes, who has been monitoring the settlements for years, said he believes the lots in question contain a few dozen buildings, including both mobile homes and permanent houses.