Court ruling paves way to legalize settlements in Judea and Samaria

A Jewish community in Samaria scored a legal victory on Tuesday with a ruling that could impact thousands of homes in Judea and Samaria.

By: Ebin Sandler, World Israel News

In a major decision for residents of a Jewish community in Samaria, the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday paved the way to legal status for the homes of around 40 families, and potentially thousands more in similar communities.

The case involves the community of Mitzpe Kramim in the Binaymin Region of Samaria, around 45 minutes from Jerusalem, which sits on the edge of a larger community, Kochav Hashachar, which houses 400 families.

On Tuesday, Judge Arnon Darel ruled that due to Mitzpe Kramim residents’ good faith in establishing their community, and the state’s role helping them to do so, the government cannot force residents to leave their homes.

When Mitzpe Kramim was established in 1999, the residents acquired the land from government authorities, who said that they had the right to transfer the land.

Ten years later, a group of Palestinians, assisted by a left-wing legal organization, claimed they owned the land and brought a case before the High Court of Justice to try to uproot the families of Mitzpe Kramim from their homes.

In response, Mitzpe Kramim filed a suit in the Jerusalem District Court arguing that their community is protected by a government regulation designed to shield those who acquire land in good faith, even if the seller was in error with regard to its right to transfer the property. Residents contend that the government was responsible for facilitating their communities establishment and shouldn’t destroy what it helped create.

Previously, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit communicated support for the application of this regulation to communities in Judea and Samaria, a region in which the regulation had not previously been applied.

A victory for ‘the rule of law and well-meaning people’

With forced evacuations of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria being an ongoing issue for Israel, the decision may represent a major victory for other similarly situated communities in the area.

“We innocently and honestly invested the bulk of our savings in a home in the heartland of Israel, and we were mortified to find out that the authorities had abandoned us and put our families and lives into a state of flux and limbo,” Shlomo Zwickler, a resident of Kochav Hashachar whose home was initially affected by the High Court case against Mitzpe Kramim, told World Israel News.

“This court decision yesterday reinvigorates the rule of law for innocent well-meaning people who operate in good faith and simply want to live their lives in their ancestral homeland,” he added.

Zwickler reflected on the hard work, development, and financial resources Mitzpe Kramim residents invested in their community and the profound sense of disappointment and betrayal that followed when the government attempted to rezone the land on which their homes had been built, transforming their houses into illegal structures.

Thousands of homes affected

The decision on Tuesday in Jerusalem District Court sidesteps the legal issue in the previous High Court case, which addresses whether the state may retroactively expropriate land belonging to a specific owner where residents built in good faith or with government support, provided the claimant is compensated for the land.

Instead, Tuesday’s ruling holds that in order to protect the integrity of the real estate market, acquisitions in good faith will be protected from subsequent attack by claimants who emerge from the woodwork down the line, regardless of the initial issue of ownership.

The ruling was met with joy by advocates for Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria such as MK Bezalel Smotrich of Habayit Hayehudi, who commented, “I am glad that common sense has won, and as a result of the decision it will be possible to arrange Mitzpe Kramim and continue to arrange a large part of the young settlements in Judea and Samaria,” as reported in the Jewish Press.

Advocacy group Regavim also commended the court on the ruling, issuing a statement declaring, “This is a historic and welcome decision. We call on the Attorney General to apply the principles set forth in the judgment to other settlements in Judea and Samaria, whose regulation is required.”

With more than 3,000 homes in Judea and Samaria facing a similar predicament to that of Mitzpe Keramim, Tuesday’s ruling could have a major impact on the future of a number of Jewish communities in the area.

The 45-day appeal period for the decision now begins to run, with legal attacks from claimants expected, in addition to lobbying by leftist Israeli groups and Palestinian organizations.