Housing Minister Reopens Debate Over Ariel Sharon’s Family Ranch

High Court ruled six months ago that a solar energy installation built illegally on Sycamore Ranch should be dismantled.

Moshe Gilad

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel held a special discussion in the Israel Land Administration’s governing board at the request of Gilad Sharon, the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, over a solar energy installation built illegally at the Sharon family’s Sycamore Ranch.

The High Court of Justice ruled six months ago that the installation should be dismantled as it violated the terms of the Sharons’ land rental contract, under which the land may be used only for agricultural purposes.

Sharon contacted Ariel on March 16 and again on March 27. In response, Ariel added a new subject for discussion to a previously scheduled Israel Land Council board meeting: “The construction of solar installations by renters of agricultural land in conflict zones and surrounding Gaza.”

The Housing and Construction Ministry declined to respond regarding Sharon’s contacts with Ariel over the past two weeks.

In their decision last October, Justices Dafna Barak-Erez, Elyakim Rubinstein and Yitzhak Amit overturned a decision by a district court and sided with the ILA’s determination that the land could not be used for solar collectors.

In response to the argument by Sharon’s lawyer that the solar field had been built following the District Court ruling at an investment of 8 million shekels and was therefore a done deal, they noted that the lower court had included a warning that should the High Court overturn the decision, the Sharon family would be the one to bear the cost of going ahead with the installation.

“The question brought before us is whether the proper interpretation of decision 1254 applies to agricultural leases as in the case of the plaintiffs. We answer this question with a ‘no,’” states the ruling.

The justices said that they were not answering the question of whether that decision should be applied to more leases, including the Sharon family’s, and added that this was something for the ILA to address. The justices said they were not taking any stance on the matter.

Following that ruling, the law firm representing Sharon, Lipa Meir and Co., wrote to Ariel requesting that the ILA’s policy regarding solar fields be changed. The current ILA policy allows for solar fields to be built only on much smaller farms in that area. The law firm cited the security threat in the area as a reason to allow the solar installation.

After TheMarker contacted the Housing and Construction Ministry earlier on Monday, the ministry issued a press release stating, “Ariel Sharon’s son built on eight dunams (about two acres) a photovoltaic solar farm at a cost of 8.5 million shekels, after a district court ruled that the ILA decision could be interpreted as allowing a solar farm at the site. The High Court’s ruling on the matter six months ago overturned the District Court’s decision, and as a result the solar panels at Sycamore Ranch have not yet been connected to the [nationwide] electricity grid.”

The ministry added that the court had recommended that the matter be handed back to the local council, which it stated had the authority to determine where solar farms could be built even in the cases of private rental contracts.

“Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel and head of the Israel Land Council decided to accept the High Court’s recommendation to discuss the matter in the ILC,” it stated, adding that the issue affected other farmers in the area, too.