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Israel legal ruling lets Palestinians reclaim former Jewish settlement

Israel legal ruling lets Palestinians reclaim former Jewish settlement
This file photo from June 9, 2005, shows a house in Homesh, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank that was ordered abandoned and returned to Palestinian control.
(Ilan Mizrahi / For The Times)

JERUSALEM -- A ruling by Israel’s attorney general allows Palestinians access to West Bank lands decades after they were seized, Israeli media report

In 1978, Israel seized around 170 acres of the Palestinian village of Burka, citing security needs. But a small military camp set up on the hilltop was quickly replaced with civilians, and the site became the Jewish settlement of Homesh.

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Homesh was among four West Bank settlements Israel removed under the terms of a 2005 disengagement plan, when it removed all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip.

Although the settlement was destroyed, the military seizure of the lands remained valid.   

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In 2011, Palestinian village leaders and land owners filed a petition through the nonprofit rights group Yesh Din, seeking to regain their lands.

In May, the state informed the high court that the original land-seizure order would be nullified. The ruling was heralded by Yesh Din lawyers as “an historic precedent” but Palestinians were not yet allowed on the site, as another closure order remained in place.

Now, a recent decision by Israeli Atty. Gen. Yehuda Weinstein has canceled the ban on Palestinian access to the site and permits Palestinian farmers access to their lands -- although implementation may face further challenges. 

Jewish groups have maintained a semi-permanent presence at the ruins of Homesh, including annual events attended by thousands as well as government representatives calling for the resettlement of the site.

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Weinstein’s decision states the area will remain closed to Israelis.

Conservative lawmaker Tzipi Hotovely was critical of the decision, which has diplomatic implications for ceding lands to the Palestinians. Hotovely told reporters that the decision to permit Palestinians to enter the site but not Jews was “outrageous discrimination.”

But Shlomy Zachary from Yesh Din welcomed the attorney general’s decision, which he said came 3-1/2 decades after the land was “usurped from its lawful owners.”

In a statement from the group, he expressed concern about unlawful Israeli presence in the area and hoped the law would be upheld.

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