On 21.08.2017 the government of Israel submitted its official response to the petition to Israel’s High Court of Justice challenging the “Regularization Law,” submitted by Peace Now, Yesh Din and ACRI on behalf of 27 Palestinian local councils, 4 Palestinian landowners and 13 Israeli civil society organizations. Through legislation by the Israeli parliament, the law aims at retroactively legalizing illegal settlement construction on private Palestinian lands in the West Bank.
In its response, the state argued that the Knesset can legislate beyond its jurisdiction to address a national problem and that confiscation of private land can be justified as it addresses a national interest. Furthermore, it states that the fact that Palestinians cannot vote for the Knesset that is legislating this law is not an issue, since in the present situation, in which the military is the sovereign, they do not vote for the military commander who is enacting laws in the West Bank either. The State argues that the settlers can be considered a local population, and that therefore there is no violation of international law. Finally the state goes as far as arguing that the law actually benefits Palestinians whose lands are being confiscated, and who up until now they could not sell them due to Palestinian law. It is important to note that the state’s response was submitted to the High Court of Justice by a private law office, after the Attorney General refused to defend the law, which he referred to as unconstitutional.
In its response the government attempts to present Israeli citizens, who are directly involved in land theft of Palestinians, as deserving a reward for their participation in the thievery. At the same time, it minimizes the extent of the continuous violations of rights of Palestinian landowners caused by the land theft. We hope that the court will reject the government’s arguments, strike down this unconstitutional and immoral law and state clearly that enough is enough.
In the High Court petition of March 2017, the petitioners argued that the law is unconstitutional as it clearly violates Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, by forcing authorities to expropriate rights of land ownership and usage from Palestinians for an unlimited time period. The Palestinian landowners – who did not elect the parliament and government which is now expropriating their lands – are given no possibility to object the land expropriation proceedings that directly harm them.
Additionally, the law violates international humanitarian law (IHL), the laws of occupation and other international conventions signed by Israel, which oblige the State of Israel to protect the rights of residents of the occupied territory and prohibit the expropriation of their property for any use, except for immediate security needs. The petition also emphasizes the fact that the law is putting each military officer and civil servant involved in its implementation at risk of being accused of committing war crimes. The same is true for Members of Knesset who voted for it.
Finally, the petition stresses the fact that by passing the expropriation law, the Knesset has exceeded its authority. Until now, Israeli laws applied in the West Bank only in regards to Israeli citizens, i.e. on a personal basis and not on the entire territory. Passing the law is a clear act of applying sovereignty, and thereby an act of illegal annexation.
Last week, on August 17, the Court issued a temporary injunction freezing the application of the Law, but along with it, preventing for the time being the enforcement of demolition orders on illegal settlement construction on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.
Peace Now estimates that there are more than 8000 dunams of private Palestinian lands in the West Bank in and around settlements on which illegal houses were established.