In March 2015, a family in the secular community of Nili, not far from Modi’in and Highway 6, woke up one morning to a new reality.
Despite moving to Nili from Tel Aviv two years earlier and legally buying a home on state land, they were informed by their local municipality that overnight their house had become ‘illegal’ – as a result of the reclassification of the land, which their home stood on.
While unable to prove what the actual status of the land was, a team of Civil Administration inspectors, known as the State Property Delimitation Team, or the ‘Blue Line Team,’ decided that the property did not belong to the state.
A ‘Blue Line is the name given to a computer generated line indicating a community’s boundaries in Judea, Samaria, and throughout Israel. Land inside the Blue Line is considered legal, while the status of the land outside is considered disputed.
In response, the Nili family filed a civil law suit against the Civil Administration in a Jerusalem District Court for 1 million NIS in damages, claiming that as a result of their decision, the family’s home originally valued at 2 million NIS is now not even worth half of that.
31 other Nili families are also in the same boat as their homes are now outside of the ‘Blue Line’ of the community.
But the Blue Line Team’s ruling doesn’t only affect the families of Nili, but in actuality it could have an impact on thousands of other families living in Judea and Samaria, whose homes became “illegal” overnight as a result of these new land classifications.
But how did this new reality come to be?
In 1979, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in compliance with a ruling by the High Court of Justice, decided that establishing or enlarging communities in Judea and Samaria would only be carried out on state-owned land.
Therefore the need arose for Begin to properly identify the status of the land throughout Judea and Samaria. As opposed to the land in pre-1967 Israel, whose status was legislated during the 1950s and ‘60s, in Judea and Samaria this process never took place.
Charged with the task was attorney Plia Albeck, who ran the Civil Department of the State Prosecutor’s Office – ultimately for 24 years.
It took Albeck and her team years utilizing existing maps, aerial imagery, and going out into the field and exploring for themselves to make a declaration as to which properties were state land. The communities established in those areas were delineated on maps within blue lines indicating their legal status.
As a result of Albeck’s work, in those areas deemed state land, properties were purchased, and houses went up without any legal issues.
However, in 1999, the Civil Administration charged with overseeing civilian life in Judea and Samaria decided to reassess Albeck’s findings and the ‘Blue Line Team’ was established.
Since that time the team has been reevaluating Albeck’s lines and redrawing their own blue lines in areas where even the slightest doubts arose. Another example of their work similar to the Nili case is an incident in March 2016, when families living in 190 homes in the Binyamin region community of Eli woke up one morning to find themselves outside of the blue line of their town.
All of this madness because of a computer generated blue-line.
And that’s where the new Knesset Regulation Law comes in to play. Passed two weeks ago in the Knesset by a vote of 60-52 the bill introduced by Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, seeks to provide justice for thousands of families living in homes built throughout Judea and Samaria, who are experiencing this frightening reality.
The bill’s introduction was a result of the research carried out by the Regavim Movement due to its understanding of the potential threat to the homes in question, and raising awareness among MK.
Under the new law, homes built on disputed property, or property which became disputed as a result of the ‘Blue Liners’ work, would remain intact, while Arabs with legitimate claims to the land would be given alternate plots of land or monetary compensation totaling 125% of their land’s value.
It’s important to note that property claims – often brought forward on behalf of Arabs by extremist anti-Israel NGOs – will need to be verified, since until now land not classified as state land in Judea and Samaria was automatically deemed private land regardless of its true status.
While the Regulation Law passed, there are indications from many sources including Israel’s Attorney General that Israel’s High Court will strike down the new law. If that happens Regavim recently clarified in a press statement that just like in the Nili case, “the State will have to pay out billions of shekels in compensation to all of those who have been harmed by the egregious move by the Civil Administration.”
Regavim is therefore adamant that the Regulation Law should remain in place. Jewish landowners and their families who bought homes in good faith and with government support and lived there for years based on Albeck’s findings shouldn’t become homeless or lose millions of NIS of their property value because of these new blue lines.
The 60 members of Knesset who voted for the bill understood this, and the High Court should accept the ruling of the legislature, and allow the new law to remain intact.
The author is the international director for Regavim, a think-tank dedicated to researching land issues throughout Israel