The settlement of Ofra, in northern Samaria, was founded in 1975 and is one of the oldest Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, but its legal situation is still not established. In 2014, the Israeli government issued a building plan for some Ofra homes, which are located on land that was expropriated before 1967 by the Jordanians. In 2017, the mayor of nearby Silwad village, Abdul Rahman Saleh, petitioned the High Court on behalf of the Arabs who claim that many of the lands in Ofra are private and belong to them. The petitioners asked the High Court of Justice to, in effect, determine their ownership of the Ofra area.
Over time, the state changed its position several times on the petition, and even pulled back and corrected erroneous reports submitted to the court regarding the Arabs’ links to the land.
According to Makor Rishon, in last week’s hearing, state representative Aner Hellman also submitted amendments to the State’s position, which confused the judges.
“I managed to get confused,” Justice Dafna Barak-Erez complained, and was joined by Justice Neil Hendel, who asked, “What are you saying? I’m not sure I understood.”
Hellman finally managed to convey the state’s position that the ten Arab petitioners do, allegedly, have ties to several of the plots in Ofra, but these affinities are not unequivocal. He argued that even if it transpired eventually that one of the petitioners did indeed own one of the plots, nevertheless, the High Court of Justice must reject the petition.
Hellman stressed that “to this day, the petitioners, although 52 years have passed since the liberation of Judea and Samaria and 42 years since the government decided to establish Ofra, are yet to file a petition to the High Court of Justice or to a civil court to cancel the land expropriations and determine whether they have rights.”
Hellman accused the petitioners of trying an indirect attack instead, so that if the court revokes the expropriations over state procedural errors, the claimants won’t have to meet a high standard in establishing their ownership.
Attorney Tawfiq Jabarin, who represents the Arab petitioners, tried to explain to the court why his clients petitioned after such a long time, about forty years after the establishment of Ofra. However, according to Makor Rishon, the judges’ comments indicated that they did not accept his explanations.
“When we read the petition, in any case, we see we are dealing with rights claims which have been delayed for decades, and this is the central issue,” Justice Noam Solberg said.
Justice Barak-Erez further added that “this is a clear legal argument that could have been brought up 10 years ago.”