(photo credit: IDF [file])
The heads of three Palestinian villages on Wednesday demanded that the state return 590 dunams (59 hectares) of private farmland expropriated for the construction of a highway to serve Jewish settlers that was never built.
The demand came in a petition filed in the High Court of Justice by Khalil Shahin, head of the Ein Arik village council, Arafat Kahaf, head of the Beitunya village council and Kamal Tawil, head of the Deir Abziya village council. They are represented by attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zachary from Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights.
The land was expropriated according to two military orders issued in 1998 and 2001. In late 2000, after the start of the second intifada, the army decided that it was too dangerous for Jews from a bloc of four settlements, Talmon, Dolev, Nahliel and Neriyah, to drive through Palestinian villages to reach Highway 443. They decided to build a direct route linking them to the highway via the Ofer army base.
The army began preparing the first section of the road, 2.4 kilometers long, in 2001, but halted construction in the middle and has not resumed work since.
In 2007, the settlements petitioned the High Court demanding that the army complete the road or build an alternative one for the same purpose.
In its response, the state told the court that construction had initially been halted because there was not enough money and out of concern that the route might cause harm to archeological sites. As time went on, the army concluded that the new road would be vulnerable to terrorist attacks and that the security forces could not provide adequate security. Finally, it said the road would cause disproportionate harm to the Palestinian villagers in the area because the army would have to set up roadblocks to check Palestinian drivers and that would mean expropriating even more land.
On August 20, 2009, the High Court rejected the settlers’ petition.
Having learned of the ruling, the village council heads decided to ask for their land back, since it was clear that the army did not intend to use it for the purpose for which it had been expropriated.
“This petition aims to restore the downtrodden rights of Palestinians to own property, a right which is protected by law in the West Bank, and to return the property to its owners, when the army has stated it has no use for the land it expropriated,” Zachary said.
“Following the authorities declaration before the court, there is no alternative other than to restore the land to its original owners, something the authorities should have initiated themselves. Since they did not, the petitioners had no choice but to appeal to the court to rule on the annulment of the expropriation,” he said.