Israeli Army to Return Some Jordan Valley Land to Palestinian Owners

The land has been worked by settlers since the 1980s. After years of court battles, the army has agreed to permit at least some Palestinians to return to their farm lands.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Palestinians working at a grove of date palms in the Jordan Valley.
Palestinians working at a grove of date palms in the Jordan Valley. Credit: Michal Fattal
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Almost 50 years after Israel occupied the Jordan Valley, the Israel Defense Forces intends to reduce the size of its closed-military areas in the West Bank territory and permit Palestinian landowners to return to cultivate their land.

The fate of some 14 plots of land, all belonging to Palestinians but being worked by settlers since the 1980s, is still unclear.

IDF soldiers clearing a minefield in the Jordan Valley.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The decision to cut back the size of the IDF’s closed areas in the Jordan Valley was revealed in the state’s response to a court petition filed in the wake of a Haaretz report in 2013.

After the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the IDF cordoned off the area between the security fence and the Jordan border and forbade Palestinians from encroaching on the area, citing security concerns.

In 1969, Israel issued an order forbidding Palestinians from entering a wide strip of land between the border fence and the Jordan River .

Haaretz reported in January 2013 that 5,000 dunam (over 1,200 acres) of the Palestinian-owned land were being farmed by settlers on the basis of a military commander’s directive dating from the 1980s.

Following the report, a number of Palestinians petitioned the High Court, which issued a conditional order requiring the state to explain why the landowners should not be allowed to farm the land. The petitioners, represented by Taufiq Jabrin, requested that that the families be allowed to return to their land in place of the Israeli settlement of Mehola.

Trying to save doves after IDF demolition at Khirbet Makhoul in Jordan Valley.Credit: Alex Levac

The state finally responded to the court last week with a statement that appeared to indicate that the closed military zone to the west of the security fence (which has moved over the years) will be removed. The 14 plots in the area that are not being cultivated will be returned to their original owners .

The state attached a document, first revealed by Haaretz a few months ago, in which Plia Albeck, a lawyer who directed the Civil Department of the State Prosecutor’s Office for 24 years, requested that the state cease giving land to settlers. Haaretz reported at the time that the World Zionist Organization had been authorized by the state to allocate some of the land to settlers.

The 14 additional plots are expected to be outside the new borders of the closed-military zone and unavailable to the settlers.

The state has yet to announce what it plans to do with the settlers. For the past three years, it has been trying to pressure the Palestinians to lease the land to the IDF’s Civil Administration in return for financial compensation. The Palestinians have consistently refused.

A date farm in the Jordan Valley area that the IDF intends to return to the Palestinians. Credit: Moti Milrod

For settlement researcher and left-wing activist Dror Etkes, the IDF’s about-turn provides additional proof of “the harmonious coexistence between what is called ‘security concerns’ and the ongoing enterprise of theft and expropriation [of Palestinian lands] by the government. which has flourished for the past 50 years.

“We can assume that had they not petitioned the court, the situation would have stayed the same for many more years,” he added.

Taufiq Jabrin, the lawyer representing the some of the Palestinians, said that “the state pretty much confessed to doing something illegal, but they have yet to decide what they want to do with it. They did not say they play to remove the trespassers within six months, but rather they want to hold talks between the sides. There is nothing to talk about, we want our land back.”

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