Migron; justice undone

If Arab claims are valid and the government built illegally, then both Jews and Arabs are entitled to compensation.

Migron Israel Flag 311 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Migron Israel Flag 311
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Despite extensive media coverage of Migron’s legal battles to survive, judicial edicts by a few members of Israel’s Supreme Court, and misrepresentations by those who oppose Migron’s presence, the facts concerning this Jewish community have not been presented fully, or fairly.
A small community of 50 families a dozen kilometers north of Jerusalem, Migron is a test case for all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and its fate may affect many within Israel’s “Green Line” as well.
The controversy revolves around two main issues: (1) who owns the land, and (2) if there was government negligence, who was responsible and who should be compensated. Despite the trauma of expelling 9,000 people from Gush Katif and the northern Shomron, Israel seems on the verge of repeating its mistakes.
Built more than a decade ago, Migron received the active support of the prime minister, the defense minister, the IDF commander, the civil administration, the housing and construction, transportation and communications ministries, the electric, water and telephone companies, as well as other government agencies. In other words, because of Migron’s strategic location, it was established with de facto government approval.
Part of the land on which Migron was built was registered to Arabs who left the region and cannot be found; this land thus came under the jurisdiction of the Custodian of Abandoned Property (apotropus) – a government agency established to manage land and property that is uninhabited and unclaimed. Another part of Migron was allegedly purchased by Jews, but not registered as such for fear of exposing the Arabs who sold it to the PA’s death penalty for such ‘crimes.’
The State Prosecutor’s Office and Civil Administration did not object to building at Migron until several years later, when Peace Now took the matter to the Supreme Court. Relying on the opinion of the State Prosecutor’s Office and Civil Administration, the Supreme Court accepted Arab claims that Migron was built illegally on “private Palestinian land.”
The Supreme Court, however, did not investigate or examine the issue, since it does not deal with such questions; only the District Court has this authority. The State and Civil Administration never explained why they did not object initially, or why they changed their position; there is strong suspicion that the reason is political.
Although the area of Migron is registered to Arabs, the district court has not authoritatively decided this issue. Since the alleged original Arab owners are deceased or unknown, there are serious questions of whether the Arab claimants really do own the land. Moreover, despite the 64 plots in dispute, only four petitioners have appeared. Why hasn’t the government accepted their petitions, and where are the rest? These and other questions regarding ownership will be considered when the case is heard in the Magistrate’s Court.
How the land was acquired by the Arabs who now claim it is important. Under Turkish, British and Jordan rule, large tracts of state land were given to individuals, tribes and villages by the sovereign power on condition that they pay taxes and use the land within a specified amount of time, usually 10 years. Land not used within the given time reverts to the state.
The area of Migron was never used or developed by its Arab claimants, then or now. But there is a more important question.
In the hilltop community of Amona, near Ofra, there are nine huge piles of rubble – the remains of Jewish homes destroyed by former PM Olmert’s government in 2006. What did this destruction accomplish, and was this true justice?
The humanitarian solution
The Arab claimants have rejected generous offers of compensation and alternative sites which more than match the value of Migron’s land. Their refusal is understandable since, according to Jordanian and PA law, selling land to Jews is a capital crime. Hundreds of Arabs suspected of such transactions have been tortured, jailed or lynched.
Pushed by NGOs like Yesh Din and Peace Now, therefore, the Arab claimants are used as political pawns.
The area of Migron has no agricultural or commercial value, and is far from any Arab village. The Arabs who claim it don’t want it and can’t use it. The Jews who live there have not received final authorization from the Defense Minister – like many Jewish communities on both sides of the “Green Line.”
If Arab claims are valid and the government built illegally, then both Jews and Arabs are entitled to compensation. Those responsible for this mistake should be held accountable; the residents who moved there in good faith and with the government’s blessing should not be punished.
The government has another option: it can declare disputed areas like Migron legal under laws of eminent domain. Compensating Arab claimants by government decree would be a humanitarian win-win solution; it would protect the Arab claimants and allow the residents of Migron to remain.
Pursuing a political agenda against Jews benefits no one, and undermines any meaningful rule of law or true social justice.
The author is a historian, writer and journalist living in Israel.

Tags green line