Israeli Settlers can’t use Ottoman code
Israeli settlers from the Kiryat Arba settlement start to re-build a wooden house. AFP photoThe Israeli Supreme Court has set a precedent by ruling that an Ottoman law, under which settlers could get custody of agricultural land by demonstrating that they had been farming it for a decade or longer, was not sufficient to grant ownership of the land, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.
The case in question involved a petition against Michael Lessens, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, who had been working a plot of land close to the settlement. In the ruling, the panel of judges found that settlers could not use Ottoman land laws to gain ownership rights to private Palestinian land. Rights groups said the precedent could have far-reaching effects on Israeli land claims in the West Bank.
The head of the Civil Administration issued an order stating Lessens had illegally taken possession of the land and evicted him from it. Lessens petitioned the Military Appeals Committee to overturn the order, explaining that as he had been working the land for over ten years, he legally owned it according to the law in place. The committee accepted his petition and over turned the civil administration’s order.
In response to the committee’s decision, the Palestinian owners of the land, assisted by Yesh Din, petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the committee’s decision. They were later joined in the petition by the State Prosecutor’s Office.
Large tracks of land in the West Bank are currently being farmed by settlers under the aegis of the Ottoman law. The new ruling will allow the Civil Administration to order their eviction.