High Court challenges ILA land to homeowners ad campaign

Israel Lands Authority open massive advertising campaign to implement law allowing home, apartment owners to buy their land only to be warned by High Court.

By DAN IZENBERG
October 7, 2010 06:36
4 minute read.
The Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev.

58_Pisgat Zeev view of homes. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) and the Israel Lands Authority opened a massive advertising campaign earlier this week to implement a law allowing home- and apartment-owners to buy their land rather than continuing to lease it from the government.

However, a Jerusalem lawyer who has challenged the law in the High Court of Justice warned that he would take legal action against Attias for allegedly seeking to gain political capital from the law, and ask the court to issue an interim injunction to halt the campaign.

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According to a statement issued by the Government Press Office on Wednesday, “The reforms in the Israel Lands Authority that have been declared by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are now under way.

The reforms are due to create a greater supply of residential units, encourage better construction in developed areas, and provide housing solutions for young couples and discharged soldiers. Housing prices are expected to decline as a result of the increased supply. Letters will soon be sent to 40,000 families, in which the ILA will inform homeowners regarding the transfer of title and what the reforms mean for their assets.”

The reform was passed into law on August 3 as the seventh amendment to the Israel Lands Administration Law. Among other things, it allows the government to give away or sell 800,000 dunams (80,000 hectares) of land to the private sector. The legislation will allow all homeowners whose houses were built on land leased to them by the Israel Lands Administration or other public landowning companies to receive the land free of charge or purchase it and cut all ties with the ILA. It will also allow developers and companies to buy plots of empty land that until now have been owned by the state.

Since the reform became law, the Israel Lands Administration has became the Israel Lands Authority.

A number of petitioners, including the Dror and Hanoar Haoved Velomed youth movements, MK Arye Eldad (National Union), represented by attorney Gilad Barnea, and MK Hanna Sweid (Hadash) petitioned the High Court against the law.



Barnea called on the court to overturn key elements of the law, including the provision allowing the government to sell 800,000 dunams of land, and another provision vastly expanding the definition of “urban land.”

Among other things, Barnea charged that the legislation was unconstitutional because it violated the Basic Law: Israel Lands, which, he said, could only be amended by another basic law.

According to the basic law, “The ownership of the lands of Israel, which are the lands of the state, the Development Authority or the Jewish National Fund, will not be sold or transferred in any other way.”

An earlier amendment to the Israel Lands Administration Law allowed the ILA to privatize 200,000 dunams of land. That legislation went unchallenged. But by quadrupling the amount of land to be sold, the government was changing the essence of the basic law itself, argued Barnea.

On July 14, the High Court held its first hearing on the petitions. A few weeks later, it ordered the state to respond to some of the arguments raised. The state did so on September 17. Meanwhile, a second hearing in the case has not yet been held.

Now, the government has launched its campaign to market all the multi-story housing and one-story apartments situated on small plots of land.

In a letter to the state’s representative in the petition, attorney Uri Keidar, Barnea charged that the campaign “was an unacceptable and improper attempt to create facts before the High Court gives its opinion on the legality of the provisions of the Israel Lands Administration law that is before it. It needn’t be stressed that it is obligatory that the state, as a party to the judicial procedure, must not do so, even if the court has not formally issued an interim injunction.”

Among other things, Barnea expressed concern that in this mass appeal to homeowners to register for ownership of the land, the ILA might sell off land belonging to the Jewish National Fund. The fate of the JNF lands is the subject of a petition in the Jerusalem District Court and they are not included in the seventh amendment at this time.

He also charged that the sale of lands to the owners of one-story homes is permitted according to the seventh amendment, even though the provision is under attack in the petition.

Barnea attacked Attias for planning to write a letter to the first 40,000 homeowners who will be able to buy land according to the order of priorities established in the new campaign. These include all those living in national priority areas A and B and communities along the confrontation lines.

“The housing minister’s letter opens with festive words making unequivocal promises: ‘Obtain Ownership of Your Property at No Cost.”

The fact that Attias signed a letter offering such a significant benefit to the public appeared to violate the Election Law (Propaganda), said Barnea, who warned that if the minister did not refrain from sending the letters, he would consider complaining to the Central Election Committee.

A source in the Housing Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that Barnea’s threat was “a bad joke.” He compared it to accusing the government of lowering taxes to win an election that was a long time away.

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