Part of Land for Amona Evacuees' Settlement Is Owned by Palestinians, Say Petitioners

Palestinians tell High Court aerial photos show that 15% of land for Amona evacuees was cultivated

Site of Amihay, a new settlement for the evacuees of Amona, June 2017
Olivier Fitoussi

Part of the land on which the state is building the new settlement for the families evacuated from the Amona outpost earlier this year is private Palestinian land, according to a legal opinion submitted to the High Court of Justice.

The opinion refers to a 14-dunam (3.5 acre) plot on which the new settlement of Amihai is going up, and that was declared state land last year. The plot is south of the access road to the settlement.

The legal opinion submitted by Palestinians petitioning against the building of the new settlement is based on aerial photos from the 1990s showing that the land in question had been cultivated. According to West Bank land laws, which are based on Ottoman law, cultivation of land is proof of ownership.

Regarding a photo from 1997, the opinion states, “In this photo the area that requires examining is clearly seen to be agricultural land, with its broad terraces that were prepared by man and on which actions such as clearing, straightening and farming were performed. The entire area looks as if it was cultivated as one continuous unit, except for the walls of the existing terraces because of the topographical structure of the area. The entire area under review is characterized by broad, cleared terraces that are used for cultivation without any rocky ground that cannot be farmed.” The area shows a similar situation in later aerial photos, from 1999, 2001 and 2002.

The summary of the legal opinion states, “Over all the years reviewed the examined section was clearly found to be agricultural land, with broad terraces that were prepared for farming and cleared by human hand. Over all the years reviewed, the examined section was found to be a single prepared unit used for farming.”

Along with the legal opinion, Ottoman-era documents were submitted that ostensibly establish a link between the land and a Palestinian who lives in the area. The Palestinian claims ownership of the land in question, and testifies that it had been cultivated.

Amihai, which is being erected adjacent to the settlement of Shilo in the central West Bank, is expected to have 102 homes for the former residents of the illegal Amona outpost on an area of 200 dunams. Amona was evacuated in February after the High Court ruled that it had all been erected on private Palestinian land.

According to Dror Etkes, chairman of the left-wing Kerem Navot, which monitors Israeli land policy in the West Bank, there are another 17 dunams in the area of the plan that were cultivated during those years. Etkes has aerial photos supporting this claim, but no legal opinion was submitted regarding those 17 dunams. He says that of the 205 dunams allocated to Amihai, at least 31 were cultivated by Palestinians until the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000.

Etkes claims that the cultivation of the land stopped in the early 2000s. “The second intifada is what enabled the settlers in the Shilo area to block Palestinian owners from accessing their land throughout the Jalud Valley, which inevitably led to cultivation of large areas being halted, including those areas that the Civil Administration is now claiming, with extreme bad faith, are state lands.”

The petition was filed last week by a local Palestinian and an organization called Haqel – Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights, in an effort to stop the construction of Amihai. “By means of legal acrobatics, far from the rule of law, the State of Israel is preparing to destroy traditional terraced farming that’s a thousand years old,” said attorney Quamar Mishirqi, representing Haqel.

The Civil Administration said in response, “The documents mentioned in the reporter’s query were submitted as part of a petition on the matter. The state’s response will be given in court, as is customary.”