Israeli Supreme Court Rules that Lands Confiscated in Lajoun from 486 Arab Families in 1953 for "Settlement Needs" will not be Returned to Them

Adalah: The Israeli Supreme Court's decision affords greater importance to the State of Israel's man-made forests than to the property rights of Arab citizens of Israel. It also shows that the court's policy of returning the land moves on two different tracks depending on the nationality of the petitioners: Jewish citizens can recover their confiscated land if it is not used, but as for the Arab citizens of the state, they cannot retrieve their land even if it has not been used for decades."

In its ruling on 4 January 2010 , the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the appeal of 486 Arab families who demanded that land in the destroyed village of Lajoun confiscated from them in 1953 by Israel for "settlement needs" but used for a man-made forest be returned to them. The Arab families are all citizens of Israel and currently reside in Umm el-Fahem located in the center of the country.

Adalah Attorneys Suhad Bishara and Adel Badeer, together with the private lawyers, Walid Asliya and Tawfiq Jabareen, submitted the appeal against the Nazareth District Court's decision of 18 September 2007. 

The Supreme Court rejected the main argument put forward by the petitioners against the confiscation, namely, that the land must be returned to its original owners because the state did not use it for "settlement needs" as claimed in the 1953 confiscation order.  In its decision, the court ruled that "planting a man-made forest can be considered as a kind of settlement, if we take into account that the presence of green spaces is essential for the welfare of everyone and is part of the general development of the region." The court added that the piece of land sought by the petitioners is a small parcel of the total area that was confiscated in 1953 and no distinction can be made between the different pieces.

The Supreme Court partially accepted the petitioners' appeal in that it ordered the case to be sent back to the Nazareth District Court for decision on the issue of ownership between the various parties. The court emphasized that deciding the issue of ownership is necessary for the granting of financial compensation in accordance with the law, and not for the purpose of returning the land to its owners.

At a Supreme Court hearing held on this matter in September 2009, Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Ala' Mahajneh together with Walid Asliya argued that the right of property ownership is a constitutional right that is of greater importance than the planting a man-made forest. Further, foresting the land is in itself proof that the land has not been used for any purpose since the confiscation, and therefore should be returned to its original owners. According to Supreme Court precedent, if confiscated land is not used for many years after its confiscation, it should be returned to its original owners. In this case, it is clear that planting a man-made forest is not a use in "service of the public."

The land at issue is part of the village of Lajoun, which existed before the establishment of the State. These lands are now part of the territory of the Arab town of Umm al-Fahem in the Megiddo junction region and are owned by around 486 families. The area extends to nearly 200 dunams and is known as “plot 20420”. This plot was confiscated from Palestinian citizens of Israel, along with other plots of land on 15 November 1953. The land was 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 – 1953 for "essential settlement and development needs".  Even today, the only use of the land in question has been the establishment of a small facility for the "Mekorot water" company and a forest planted on part of it.