Israel Opts Out of Invoking Land-grab Law to Save Illegal Settler Homes

State opposes settlers' request to seal Ofra homes slated for demolition rather than razing them.

The West Bank settlement of Ofra
Baz Ratner / Reuters

The government has informed the High Court of Justice that it sees no point to the request by the residents of nine homes slated for demolition next month in the West Bank settlement of Ofra to have their homes sealed rather than demolished, saying that the new land legalization law does not apply to them.

The state told the court that the homes, which the court has ruled were built on privately owned Palestinian land, would not benefit from the new law that allows  land on which settlement homes have been built to be appropriated for use by settlers under certain circumstances. "The request from residents of the buildings is based on a mistaken legal assumption since the [land] legalization law in no way applies to the nine buildings subject to the petition," the state wrote. By taking its position, it is agreeing with the Palestinian petitioners who have been found to own the land on which the nine buildings were built. 

The legalization law allows the state to declare private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built “in good faith or at the state’s instruction” as government property and deny its owners the right to use or possess those lands until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories. The measure provides a mechanism for compensating Palestinians whose land is seized either in cash or with other land.

In their request, the owners of the Ofra homes acknowledged that the land legalization law does not authorize the cancellation of the demolition order, but they said it might allow the land to be expropriated, which they hoped would then allow the sealed buildings to be reopened and returned to their use.

But the state told the court "a realistic interpretation" of the legalization law leads to the "clear conclusion" that the law does not apply to land that is already subject to court rulings. The homes are slated for demolition by March 5 after an earlier deadline was deferred for a month.