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A New Petition by the People of Bil’in: Cancel the Declaration of Their Lands as State Property

Today (May 14th, 2006), a new petition (HCJ 3998/06), the third in number, was filed at the High Court of Justice, on behalf of the village Bil’in.

In this petition, the Court is asked to order the person in charge of government property in the West Bank to annul two declarations, one in 1990 and the other in 1991, in which he declared 900 dunams of the lands of Bil’in (now West of the barrier) as “government property” – i.e., State Lands.

The petition also asks the Court to issue an order nisi, ordering the Military Commander, the person in charge of government property, the Fund and the companies which built in Matityahu East to explain why, in their opinion, the declaration should not be annulled. Finally the Court is asked to issue a temporary injunction that will freeze all the new planning procedures of the Matityahu East neighborhood, until a final verdict in the petition.

Today (May 14) Supreme Court Judge Salim Jubran ordered the State and the other respondents to respond to the request for a temporary injunction in seven days, and to the petition itself within 30 days.

The petition was filed, on behalf of the village Council, Peace Now and 21 of the people of Bil’in who own lands in the declaration zone, by lawyers Michael Sfard and Husein Abu-Husein.

The new petition is a direct result of the former two petitions filed by the village Council: The anti-wall petition (HCJ 8414/05), which was heard today; and the petition against the Matityahu East neighborhood (HCJ 143/05), as a result of which building in the compound has been completely frozen.

Now the people of Bil’in are challenging the Israeli Court and asking him not just to remove the barrier from their lands or to stop the construction of Matityahu East, but to annul the procedures through which the State took their lands unlawfully, 15 years ago.

Main Points of the petition
The petition is based on material discovered during the procedures in the other two petitions. This material indicates that the cause for the declarations concerning government property was not the claim that these lands are uncultivated and hence lack owners (as done in dozens of other villages throughout the West Bank), but the claim of the Fund for the Redemption of Land – a private company from the settlement Kdumim, which purchases lands from Palestinians and gives them to settlers – for having bought the lands of Bil’in.

The State cooperated fully with this private company, and declared some 900 dunams of the lands of Bil’in as State lands, while hiding the fact that the Fund claims to have bought these lands. By doing this, the State bypassed orders in several West Bank laws, which specify the procedures in which purchased land can be registered on the name of the buyer. Through these procedures, careful examinations are being done with respect to the selling deals, the identity of the seller, the question did he has any lands in the area and if yes, how many, and more. These procedures are being done publicly, so that each person from Bil’in who claims to have ownership on the lands of part of them, has the right to object. The Fund said they wanted to hide the deal in order to protect the lives of the sellers, who feared they would be murdered after selling lands to settlers. But in the petition, the main reasons for this are exposed: through the illegal cooperation with the State, the Fund managed to avoid the lengthy and expensive procedures associated with registering the land as its own property, procedures which often lead to the conclusion that the purchase deal was false, and to the result that the Fund is left without the lands which allegedly it has bought.