Jewish settler Refael Morris stands at an observation point overlooking the West Bank village of Duma, near Yishuv Hadaat, an unauthorized Jewish settler outpost.
The IDF this week returned 1,700 dunams (420 acres) to Palestinian landowners by rescinding military seizure orders from the 1970s and 1980s.
The land was taken on the basis of four different seizure orders – two in 1978, one in 1980 and another in 1984.
But the military never used the land, except for two small bases that were built on the property. Those bases were abandoned in the 1990s.
The Palestinians, however, were not allowed to use the land, which belongs to the Palestinian villages of Jalud, Duma, Kusra, Mikhmas and Deir Dobwan, all located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civilian rule.
OC Central Command revoked the seizure orders in response to two separate petitions to the High Court of Justice. The Israeli nongovernmental organization Yesh Din filed the petitions last year on behalf of Palestinians in the villages who argued that the imperative to hold onto the land no longer existed.
The attorney for Yesh Din, Shlomy Zachary, called on the IDF to rescind all other land seizure orders relating to Palestinian property that similarly had never been used.
“The IDF must review all cases of seized land immediately and return any land seized for no real reason, as both law and common sense dictate,” he said.
“Sadly, a High Court petition was necessary before the state agreed to return private land to its owners. Using territories under military occupation is permitted only for imperative military purposes and is the exception to the obligation of upholding the right to property. As such, this measure should be used sparingly, in order to prevent damaging land belonging to protected persons under military occupation. There has obviously not been such need for the land in question for quite some time, if ever,” he said.
After the IDF captured the West Bank from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967, land seizure orders were acceptable practice for the creation of military bases on private Palestinian property, which in many cases became settlements.
The High Court of Justice in 1979 banned the creation of West Bank settlements on land that had been seized by the military from private Palestinians in a famous case that involved the community of Elon Moreh.
Since then, such land has been used only for a “military necessity.” Still, the IDF has rarely returned the land, even when the military necessity no longer existed.
As part of its work for these villages, Yesh Din found that the IDF had revoked a military seizure order for 3 hectares in 2012, but the IDF never informed the Palestinian owners that they could now use the property, Yesh Din spokesman Gilad Grossman said.
In June 2013, also as a result of a Yesh Din petition, the state canceled a 1978 military land seizure order in which 70 hectares of land was taken from the Palestinian village of Burka. Within two years the settlement of Homesh was built on that property.
Homesh was one of four Northern Samaria communities that the government evacuated in 2005 as part of the disengagement plan under which Israel withdrew from Gaza.
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