West Bank: Israeli court grants settler license to steal Palestinian land

An Israeli court ruling last week overturned an Israeli Defense Forces decision to allow a Palestinian farmer to work a contested field near the West Bank settlement of Shiloh. The ruling also questioned the army’s authority to reach a decision on other such land disputes. Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Shimon Fineberg gave a major victory to settlers, rejecting the land right claims of the farmer from the Palestinian village of Krayot. Shiloh resident Moshe Moskowitz said he has been farming the land since 1980. The court ordered the IDF to allow Moskowitz to work there.

According to an 1858 Ottoman law that remains in effect, anyone who spends more than a decade working land that does not have a clear previous owner becomes the recognized owner of the property. The IDF said records showed the Krayot resident had paid property tax on the land, while Moskowitz did not present any documents showing ownership.

The Palestinian farmer brought a complaint to the IDF with the aid of Rabbis for Human Rights. The IDF found he should be granted access to the land. Moskowitz—backed by the Regavim advocacy group, which says it is dedicated to preserving “state lands”—appealed to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. “We hope that the court’s ruling in the Moskowitz case will [serve as] a clear warning” to the army, said Regavim director Yehuda Eliyahu.

Countered the Palestinian farmer’s lawyer: “The judge’s decision regarding the Krayot village land provides a new opening for the theft of privately owned Palestinian property. Every settler will now be able to demand Palestinian land.” (Haaretz, Jan. 5)

The Israeli cabinet is still considering a package of incentives the US has proposed if it renews a partial freeze on settlement construction. Washington reportedly said it would strengthen its commitment to oppose UN resolutions critical of Israel, and offer defense and security guarantees. In return, Israel would stop building for 90 days in the occupied West Bank. (BBC News, Nov. 14)

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, responded to that if the US incentives fail, Palestinian leaders will ask UN Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Erekat said that “if the United States won’t force Israel to halt settlement construction this month, our next step will be to ask the Americans to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 border.” (AFP, Nov. 12)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier offered to renew a partial settlement freeze if the Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish state.” Speaking at the opening of the winter session of the Israeli parliament, Netanyahu said: “If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognizes Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my cabinet and ask for another moratorium on building.”

Palestinian leaders argue that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would compromise the rights of the 20% of the Israeli population that is not Jewish, as well as betraying the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their lands. (BBC News, Oct. 11)

See our last posts on Israel/Palestine and the West Bank.

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