GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Jerusalem District Court ruled Aug. 28 that an Israeli settlement built on private Palestinian land owned by Palestinians from the West Bank is legal.
In 2013, the settlers in Mitzpe Kramim — built in 1999 near Ramallah — petitioned the court to acknowledge their right to the land after its Palestinian owners brought the case to the Supreme Court in 2011.
The district court based its ruling on the Knesset’s 2017 law allowing settlers to expropriate private Palestinian land on which they had built homes in "good faith.” This term means that the homes were constructed without the settlers knowing that the land was private property, with the consent of the Israeli authorities and in the absence of Palestinian legal objections. Under the law, Palestinians who prove ownership of the land at a future time will be eligible for material compensation or other land.
The Knesset enacted the law after Israeli police evicted settlers from the outpost of Amona, built in 1997 on privately owned Palestinian land northeast of Ramallah. The eviction followed the Supreme Court's ruling that the Palestinian owners' submitted documents proved that the land where the outpost was built was their private property.
Hatem Ajaj, an owner of the land where Mitzpe Kramim was built, told Al-Monitor, “The judicial case to claim ownership of our land is still open at the Supreme Court. The judges are waiting for the district court to rule on the settlers’ petition before resuming deliberations.”
Ajaj, who resides in Deir Jarir, northeast of Ramallah, called the district court’s ruling “invalid,” saying, “It is crystal clear. The scale of justice is tipped in our favor. We are the owners of the land and we have the documents that prove it.”
On Sept. 3, the top Palestinian Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta, reminded Palestinians of a fatwa against accepting compensation for land from “the enemy,” as it would be perceived as recognition of Israel’s legitimacy to expropriate Palestinian land. Grand Mufti Mohammad Hussein said, “He who sells his land to his enemy and obtains compensation for his land is sinful.”
Palestine Today reported Sept. 3 that according to the verdict, whoever gives his land to settlers in exchange for compensation is “an apostate from Islam, a traitor to Allah and His Messenger and to his religion and country. Muslims are therefore banned from dealing with him, officiating his marriage, attending his funeral, offering the prayer for him or burying him in a Muslim cemetery.”
Ajaj said, “We will not agree to receive any compensation whatsoever. We will proceed with our judicial battle before the Israeli courts until we retrieve our land from the Israeli settlers.”
In an Aug. 29 statement, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates condemned the district court’s ruling and said it showed disdain for international law, which considers the settlement enterprise in the West Bank illegal.
The statement read that the ruling ruling legitimizes the “theft” of Palestinian land and is “more proof that the so-called judiciary in Israel is an integral part of the occupation system and that its decisions consist of political rulings par excellence and are legally irrelevant. They are designed to entrench the apartheid regime in occupied Palestine.”
Hanna Issa, a professor of international law at al-Quds University in Abu Dis, Jerusalem, told Al-Monitor that the ruling violates international law. He explained that the international community adopted a number of resolutions and laws defining the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal.
UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted Dec. 24, 2016, is the most recent on the topic. It demands that Israel halt all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory and reaffirms that Israel's establishment of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, is illegal.
Ghassan Daghlas, who holds the settlements dossier in the northern West Bank in the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Al-Monitor, “Regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling, none of the Israeli judicial decisions will put a stop to the ongoing expansion of settlements in the West Bank. If the court rules in favor of the Palestinians and orders that the settlers be evicted from the settlement, the Israeli government will move them to other Palestinian land in the West Bank, similarly to what happened when the Amona outpost was evacuated.”
In March 2017, the Israeli government announced plans to establish a new outpost called Amichai for that purpose south of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
Daghlas explained that Israel is continuing its settlement scheme in the West Bank for strategic reasons. “The objective is to tear apart the West Bank and turn the Palestinian governorates into scattered cantons that are geographically isolated. Then it will be impossible to establish a Palestinian state.”
The Palestinian National Initiative reported in June 2017 that following the Oslo Accord, the number of settlers increased from 111,000 to 750,000 in the West Bank, and now settlements cover 42% of the area.
It is still ambiguous whether the Supreme Court will rule to restore the Palestinian land and evacuate the settlement. If it does allow settlers to stay in Mitzpe Kramim, Ajaj assured Al-Monitor that the Palestinian landowners will not despair and will bring the case before the International Court of Justice.