A group of organizations and MKs representing nearly the entire political spectrum has petitioned the High Court of Justice to overturn recent legislation allowing private groups and individuals to purchase state-owned land.Until the law was approved by the Knesset on August 3, the Israel Lands Administration, which owns or administers 93 percent of the land in the country, had only leased it for periods of 49 or 99 years.The petitioners, represented by attorneys Gilad Barnea and Nadav Argov, charged that the new law, an amendment to the Israel Lands Authority Law of 1960, violated the Basic Law: Israel Lands, which determined that “the ownership of Israel’s lands belonging to the state, the Development Authority or the Jewish National Fund, will not be transferred either by sale or any other way.”The petitioners include the Dror movement, Hano’ar Ha’oved Vehalomed, Mahanot Ha’olim, Hashomer Hatza’ir, Teva Ivri, Professors for a Strong Israel, Hamateh Hashitufi and MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), Arye Eldad (National Union) and Nachman Shai (Kadima).The Knesset passed the law under heavy pressure from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who maintained that it would lead to a drop in the price of housing, by freeing land frozen by the ILA for development. He had made the issue a key element in his election platform.According to the law, the ILA, which itself is to be replaced by a new body, the Lands Authority, will be allowed to sell 800,000 square kilometers of land to private purchasers. It will also transfer the land upon which 800,000 private homes are built, to the ownership of the homeowners. Until now, almost all of this land has been leased by the ILA to the homeowners.The petitioners charged that the law undermined one of the foundations of the Zionist ethos upon which Israel was built, that is, the collective ownership of the land by the people of Israel. This foundation had been given expression in the Basic Law: Israel Lands. Although the basic law had included a provision which allowed exceptions to the non-sale rule, these exceptions were meant to be for highly unusual circumstances and could not exceed a total of 100,000 dunams (100 sq.km.).The petitioners also argued that the amount of land that will be put on the private market is a much larger proportion of the available land than the government has let on. According to the law, 4% of all state land will be put up for sale. But most of Israel’s 21 million sq.km. of land is unavailable for residential development.According to their estimation, 36.5% of the country’s land is allocated for farmland, 29.7% for military and security needs, 16% for parks and nature reserves, 13.7% for national infrastructure and 6.8% for forests. That leaves 1.5 million sq.km. for urban use. Today, 1.174 million sq.km. of land is already built up, leaving land reserves of only 326,000 sq.km. for towns and cities.Since the new Lands Authority will sell its land rights to existinghomeowners, this will account for approximately 255,000 of the 800,000sq.km. available for the private market. However, that still leaves545,000 sq.km. of empty land for sale, almost twice as much as the landavailable in the urban areas.The petitioners charged that another amendment to the 1960 law willallow private investors to use the excess to accumulate land in areasthat are not built up, including farmland and land allocated for otheruses.