An expanded panel of nine justices of the High Court of Justice is scheduled on Sunday to hear two petitions seeking to disqualify a law regulating land disputes related to Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria. The law was enacted a year and a half ago by the Knesset. Petitioners includes the heads of 20 Arab local councils and a long list of anti-Israel, leftist NGOs, financed by contributions from foreign sources. These include Adalah, Yesh Din, Peace Now and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
The Settlement Regulation Law provides that in the case of a rightful claim against a settlement that has been established in good faith, with support from the State, the original owner will receive annual usage fees, or the value of the land, or comparable state-owned land elsewhere – all of them at the rate of 125% of market value.
The state is represented in the hearing by attorney Dr. Harel Arnon, since Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit refused to argue in favor of the law.
Mandelblit believes that the law is unconstitutional and severely violates the rights of Arab land owners. In an opinion he published in response to the petitions, the AG wrote that the law includes “a severe infringement of the right to private property which is protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,” and “also applies in situations where there is no justification for it.”
Mandelblit also wrote that “the examination of the entities listed in the law as candidates for agricultural settlements shows that with a fairly high probability, to put it mildly, their goal is to settle only Israelis,” which the AG called a “sweeping and offensive order.”
The AG’s claim of the law favoring Israelis is astonishing, since it follows what every civil court inside green line Israel does routinely in such cases of land disputes: evaluate the claim and determine compensation to the claimant if their petition is found to have a foundation. Civil courts do not mandate the destruction of, say, an apartment building that had been erected on land that was partially owned by a claimant. Only in Judea and Samaria do Israeli land owners face demolition and evacuation in such cases.
A law that clearly attempts to prevent such destruction while compensating the claimants above the value of their loss, is described by Mandelblit as an example of apartheid.
The state for its part argues that the Regulation Law constitutes “a human response to the distress of thousands of families,” suggesting that “the practical alternative to the Regulation Law is to preserve the existing situation, in which the legal reality and factual reality are floating parallel to each other, never to meet. This is a reality that is shaking the lives of hundreds of families who built their homes on the basis of representations by the authorities; a reality in which landowners do not enjoy rights; and an especially polarizing reality that tears Israeli society apart.”
Speaking to Israel Radio Sunday morning, attorney Arnon, representing the government, accused the petitioners of “a political motive, and not concerns for the landowners’ interests.” Arnon added that “the law allows for generous compensation or alternative land, while leaving the settlers in their homes.”
“Any other alternative has only one purpose – to destroy the settlement enterprise,” he said.
The petition will be heard in an expanded panel of nine judges, with Court President Esther Hayut, Deputy Chief Justice Hanan Meltzer, and Justices Neal Hendel, Uzi Fogelman, Yitzhak Amit, Noam Solberg, Daphne Barak-Erez, Menachem Mazuz and Anat Baron.
The prevailing assessment in both the legal political systems is that the law will be disqualified, especially in view of Attorney General Mandelblit’s position. The panel does include a few justices who are pro-settlements, so we can expect some exciting minority opinions. Share those with settlers who will be evicted in the future because their fridge is located on Arab owned land.