Israel to return West Bank farmland to Palestinian owners after wrongly allocating land to kibbutz 19Feb13 February 19, 2013

by Amira Hass     -    Haaretz     –     18 February 2013

2349077637Israel is slated to return some 1,200 dunams (‏300 acres) of farmland in the northern Jordan Valley to its Palestinian owners, following the Israel Lands Administration’s admission it had mistakenly assigned the land to Kibbutz Merav, which is within the Green Line.

The ILA admitted the 30-year-old error last week in a letter to attorney Tawfiq Jabarin, who is representing the landowners. But it turns out that already in January 2012, the ILA had informed the kibbutz of the problem and told kibbutz officials that the land was no longer theirs. Nevertheless, the kibbutz is still cultivating the land.

The ILA has no authority in the areas captured in 1967, and certainly had no right to transfer privately owned Palestinian land − which was actually registered as such with the Israeli authorities − to a community in Israel proper. This is the only known case of such a mistake being made.

Over the years, Israel, under various pretexts, has seized control of around 20,000 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land and transferred it to settlements for agricultural use. But in October 2011, Dror Etkes, who researches Israeli land takeover in the West Bank, discovered that this plot of land, located in what is called the Ka’oun plain, was being cultivated by a kibbutz within the Green Line, although its legal owners live in Bardala and Tubas, just south of the Green Line in what is legally the West Bank.

Only in November 2011, after Akiva Eldar of Haaretz reported on the apparent error, did the ILA begin investigating the issue. Jabarin tried several times during 2012 to find out the results of the probe, but only received an answer from the ILA last week.

“Kibbutz Merav was mistakenly allocated land that lies across the Green Line and whose ownership appears in our records under the status of ‘arrangement,’” the ILA wrote. “When the error was clarified … kibbutz representatives were invited to a meeting in the district office and they were informed that the land was being taken from them. The land was removed from their alloted slot soon after the meeting, which took place in 2012.”

Although a year has since passed, the kibbutz is still working the land. Ortal Tzabar, the ILA spokeswoman, confirmed that the kibbutz, which had been informed it should return the land to its owner, has yet to evacuate it. The ILA, she said, in coordination with the Agriculture Ministry, is looking for alternative land for the kibbutz.

Tzabar had no idea why it took a year for Jabarin to be told what had transpired. “The ILA is going to make a concerted effort to wrap up this case in the near future,” she said.

Upon contacting the kibbutz, Haaretz was referred to Ron Ben-Nun, who declined to say what his official position was. Neither did he confirm that the ILA had informed the kibbutz a year ago that it was farming Palestinian land.

Later in the conversation, however, he admitted that “it was brought to our attention that others have claims to the land, if I may put it delicately. They aren’t claims against us.

“The ILA allocated this land to us and if the ILA wants to take land away, it knows how to do it,” Ben-Nun continued. “All these years we’ve been using this land that was allocated to us, including now. We are cultivating it as usual, why not?”

Asked if the kibbutz was waiting to be allocated alternative land, he replied, “I don’t know what will be in the future.”

He added that the kibbutz was not the address for clarifying the matter.

“If there are complaints about anyone, they’re not about us. We’ll be happy if it’s written that Kibbutz Merav is not the problematic party here.”

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