Palestinians Petition Israeli High Court in First Legal Challenge to Land-grab Law

Legislation violates international law, petition filed jointly by 20 Palestinian local councils and human rights groups says.

General view of houses of the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in the occupied West Bank February 7, 2017.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

A collaboration of Palestinian civic councils and human rights organizations petitioned the Israeli high court on Wednesday to void a law, enacted this week, allowing Israel to expropriate private Palestinian land in the West Bank where Israeli settlements or outposts have been built.

The coalition suing against the law consists of 17 Palestinian local governments, 15 rural and two urban, and three Palestinian human rights organizations from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel. 

The new 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 hold those lands until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories.

The measure provides a mechanism for compensating Palestinians whose lands will be seized. A landowner can receive an annual usage payment of 125 percent of the land’s value as determined by an assessment committee for renewable periods of 20 years, or an alternate plot of land if this is possible, whichever he chooses.

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The law is widely expected to be repelled by Israel's High Court. 

Also Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that he could be forced to suspend security cooperation with Israel if the ramp-up of Israeli settlements continued.

"If the colonization continues, I would have no other choice, it would not be my fault," Abbas told France's Senate during a visit to Paris.

The Palestinian petition, the first legal challenge to the law, argues that the law, which has been named the Law Regulating Settlement in Judea and Samaria 5777-2017, violates international humanitarian law and is therefore illegal. Their motion asks the High Court of Justice to issue an injunction against the law's application until the motion is ruled upon.

The petition was filed by advocates Suhad Bishara and Myssana Morany of the Adalah Center, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Jerusalem, and attorney Saliman Shaheen of the Jerusalem Center. It states that the law gravely violates the property rights of Palestinian residents of the West Bank, rendering the "basic rights of the Palestinian subjects in the West Bank unprotectable under law, by enabling their private property to be expropriated in favor of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, based on ethnic-ideological grounds."

The law states that its purpose is to prioritize the interests of a certain group, based on ethnicity, leading to the disinheritance of the Palestinian residents, say the organizations.

The law cannot be valid because it suspends the norms of international law, they argue, by utterly negating the defenses that humanitarian international law affords over property rights. International law forbids Israel, as an occupying power, from exploiting occupied land for its own political purposes and that of its citizens. That includes building settlements on them, they argue.

The law also hurts the dignity of the Palestinians living in the West Bank, say the petitioners – hurting their right to dignity by explaining, without hesitation, that the interests of the settlements and the Jewish Israeli settlers in the West Bank supersede and are superior to the rights of Palestinians, and therefore, the Palestinians may be disinherited.

The petitioners attached aerial photographs of the settlements built on land associated with the rural and urban Palestinian local governments. They also claim that the law's sponsors made a list of settlements in advance that had been built on private Palestinian lands, for which the lands would be seized – though knowing full well that the owners in some cases wanted the land back.

Reuters contributed to this report