On 18 March 2007, the District Court in Nazareth decided to permit the continued appropriation of approximately 200 dunams of land through an order of the Minister of Finance from 1953. The Court also ordered the settlement official from the Justice Ministry to register the land in the name of the Development Agency.
With this decision, the Court thereby rejected Adalah’s arguments filed on behalf of approximately 200 landowners regarding the ownership of the land, including the main argument that the confiscation is fundamentally invalid and must be returned to its original owners, because it has not been used for “essential settlement and development needs,” in accordance with the Finance Minister’s order. The Court agreed however with Adalah’s request to delay the implementation of the decision, to allow Adalah to investigate the possibility of filing an appeal to the Supreme Court.
In the decision, the District Court focused on the interpretation of the term “settlement” as used in the confiscation order. It accepted the Development Agency’s argument that it is possible to give very broad interpretations of this term, deciding that, “settlement does not mean only building a house, but also any other usage required for citizens in Israel in general.” Thus, the Court decided that the uses to which the land has been put until today, such as the planting of a man-made forest, and the setting up an industrial facility belonging to the “Mekorot” water company, are compatible with the term “settlement.”
It is Adalah’s position that the Court’s interpretation of this term is erroneous and dangerous. The Court’s decision legitimizes the illegal and unjustified seizure of land, especially given that the Land Acquisition Law of 1953, pursuant to which the confiscation order was issued, was enacted to ease and retroactively validate the state’s seizure of large areas of land owned by persons forced to leave during the 1948 war. However, as Adalah argued, the Court should not accept these dubious considerations of the past, and they certainly cannot be followed today, as this would necessarily involve violations of the individuals’ basic right to property.
These lands, the lands of Lajoun, were previously part of Umm al-Fahem. The land in question, which is a 200-dunam plot of land known as plot 20420, was confiscated, along with other plots of land totaling 34,600 dunams on 15 November 1953. The lands were expropriated following an order of then-Minister of Finance, Levi Ashkol, in accordance with his powers under Article 2 of the Land Acquisition (Validation of Acts and Compensation) Law of 1953 for essential settlement and development needs.
However, during the fifty-four years since the appropriation of the land, it has not been used for the purposes for which it was ostensibly appropriated. Specifically, the plot which is the subject of this disputed land settlement case has not been used for the goals asserted in the Minister of Finance’s order. The land remains a forested area containing the Mekorot industrial facility.
In written arguments filed on 31 May 2006, Adalah Attorneys Adel Badir and Suhad Bishara on behalf of the owners of the land in the village of Lajoun to the Nazareth District Court challenged the appropriation, asserting that it was not necessary in the first place, as attested to by the fact that the land has not been used for the purposes put forward to justify its appropriation for over fifty years. Adalah stressed that the state’s failure to address the alleged essential settlement and development needs in the time since 1953 indicates that there is no need to construct residential settlements on the land in question. Thus, the public need is no longer valid and the land should therefore be returned to its owners.
Additionally, Adalah maintained that the urgent need claimed in the Minister of Finance’s order for employing the land for settlement and development was incorrect, and that the land was in fact sequestered for illegal and irrational reasons.