In response to a petition filed by Palestinians against the head of the Civil Administration, the head of the State Prosecutor’s Office acknowledges concerns that decisions made by military judges might overturn earlier rulings that West Bank land was “state land,” not privately-owned Palestinian land. In practice, new Jewish settlements may be built on state land, while the High Court of Justice has often ordered the evacuation of those built on private Palestinian land.
In the state’s response to this petition, prosecutors warned that adopting the position of the military judges would have serious implications for the entire settlement enterprise in the West Bank, especially Efrat and Karnei Shomron.
It all started with an attempted move by the state near the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, where some lands were declared state land in 2013. This was overturned in 2016 by an appeals committee, which severely criticized the manner in which the status of this land had been determined. According to Ottoman law, people obtain ownership after an extended period of tilling the land. Plots become state land after extended periods of remaining fallow.
Legally, the committee’s decisions are only recommendations and in this case the Civil Administration atypically rejected them. The committee had ruled that the land was in its final stages of approval as private land when it was occupied by Israel in 1967, so that it could not be deemed state land. Following this rejection, Palestinians turned to the High Court of Justice, asking that the recommendations be adopted and the land remain private. State prosecutors argued that adopting the committee’s decision would undermine earlier rulings on state lands in other locations.
Prosecutors argued that the appeals panel was asking for a policy change that would greatly harm West Bank settlements. “This would compel the state to reevaluate all lands deemed state lands in villages in which the issue arose and went to court. This could lead to immense damage due to the change in policy.”
State prosecutors warned that accepting the military judges’ ruling would specifically impact the status of land on which Efrat and Karnei Shomron are built. “For example, Efrat with its ten thousand residents is almost completely built on land that was declared to be state land that was previously disputed. Karnei Shomron is on land claimed by the village of Deir Istiya. The same situation applies to Kochav Yair. Adopting the appeal would undermine the fabric of life that has emerged on these lands in the last 50 years, based on earlier declarations by the authorities.”
Attorney Shlomi Zecharya from Yesh Din, who is representing the plaintiffs, said that the state’s argument that adopting the appeals committee decision would negate the decisions on Efrat and Karnei Shomron was baseless. “This is so for two reasons. Those decisions were implemented and are now a fait accompli. Secondly, if someone relied on these rulings in good faith and it later turned out that these were not state lands, the law does not allow the decision to be overturned. The state’s claim is only meant to sow fear.”