(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The High Court of Justice ruled late Tuesday night that a settler must evacuate
private Palestinian land near Kedumim within a month.
Rights groups said
the precedent- setting judgement could have far-reaching effects on Israeli land
claims in the West Bank.
In the ruling, the panel of justices – Supreme
Court President (Emeritus) Dorit Beinisch, Edna Arbel and Miriam Naor – found
that settlers could not use Ottoman land laws to gain ownership rights to
private Palestinian land. (Although Beinisch turned 70 on February 28, she still
sits on cases that the court began to hear before she passed the mandatory
retirement age for judges.)
Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, which filed
the petition on behalf of Palestinians land claimants, said on Wednesday that
the ruling was significant, not only because settler Michael Lesens would now
have to evacuate the land, but since it also has widereaching implications for
tens of thousands of hectares of West Bank land held and cultivated by settlers
– who use the same Ottoman land law as the basis for ownership claims.
the ruling, the court accepted a petition brought by three Palestinian
landowners, and ordered the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria to enforce
Lesens’s evacuation from the land by April 20.
Lesens must also pay the
Palestinians NIS 20,000 and an additional NIS 10,000 to the civil
Yesh Din filed the petition in 2009, two years after the
Palestinians said they saw Lesens had fenced off the plot of land, and planted
crops and installed an irrigation system on it.
The Palestinians first
complained to the civil administration, which issued an evacuation order against
But that order was never fulfilled, as Lesens appealed to the
military committee of appeals asking for it to be revoked. The committee did
Lesens argued that because Kedumim settlers had cultivated the West
Bank land for more than 10 years, he was entitled under Section 20 of the
Ottoman Land Law to be considered its owner. (Land law in the West Bank is based
on Ottoman land codes, to which various amendments have been made.) The High
Court, however, dismissed Lesens’s claims regarding the land law, which deals
with disputes and states that no claims can be made against against someone who
has cultivated a plot of land peaceably for more than 10 years.
ruling, Beinisch said Lesens had not provided proof to the court that he had
cultivated the land for over a decade, and that he still would have needed to
show that he had not taken possession of the land by illegal means.
prove ownership, the court ruled, settlers must provide proof that they acquired
control of the land using honest and legal means.
criticized Lesens for using legal proceedings to delay his evacuation from the
The justices said that a central question before the court was
whether the civil administration had acted lawfully in issuing its first order
to evacuate Lesens from the land, and if that order should be
The court noted that according to military order 1586 regarding
disruptive land use, the civil administration is authorized to order the
cessation of disruptive use of privately owned West Bank land, and to take steps
to enforce such an order when it is not complied with voluntarily.
civil administration is empowered to issue such orders – whose source is in
international law – to maintain public order in the area and to protect private
property, Beinisch said.
Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard said the ruling
“imposes order on the jungle that is taking control of Palestinian lands in the
“We only hope the ruling will be implemented,” he
The Samaria Citizens Committee accused Beinisch of taking
additional measures at the end of her tenure to enshrine herself as the
representative of the Left, by continuing to erode Israeli land ownership in
Judea and Samaria in favor of the Palestinians.
The committee called on
the government to take legislative measures to undo the judicial harm which had
been caused to the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria.