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State Planned To Evict Palestinian Farmers From Jericho Lands – And Changed Its Mind


The state has recently canceled orders evicting 12 Palestinian farmers from 2,400 dunams of Waqf (Muslim religious trust) land near Jericho. The orders originally stated that the farmers invaded state lands, but the farmers, who grow figs for export, submitted documents revealing that they lease the land from the Waqf, which has owned the plot – part of a larger 5,500-dunam plot – since the 13th century.

Since 1967, Israel has gained control of at least 33,000 dunams of Waqf land, especially in the Jericho area, according to maps of areas released to Etkes by the civil administration after a long legal battle. Dror Etkes, who investigates Israel's expansion in the West Bank, believes that despite the state not admitting that these are Waqf lands, the cancelation of the decrees probably reflects the state's reluctance to open the pandora's box of expropriated Waqf lands. Palestinian Authority and Waqf officials have already declared that they are considering steps to regain their land, now in the hands of Jordan Valley settlers, especially since the Waqf lands were systematically registered and organized during the pre-1967 Jordanian era.

Last week, five months after the farmers received the decrees, the official in charge of governmental and abandoned property in Judea and Samaria announced they were canceled. Etkes and fellow settlement watcher Nir Shalev say they have never before encountered a case where an eviction decree for such a huge size of land has been canceled.

In August, farmers found eviction orders in their lands, signed only by "Ro'i, Jordan Valley coordinator," a Civil Administration supervisor. In the form, instead of the farmer's name, only the word "the invader" was written. The orders demanded the plots be evacuated within 45 days and listed all responsible bodies: the Israel Defense Forces, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, the supervisor of governmental property and the central supervising unit.

The farmers were shocked by the decrees, which followed their investment of millions of dollars to change the land's crops from figs and grapes to dates. This move to the more profitable dates for export was begun 20 years ago by some wealthy families, who were later joined by other farmers and companies. The Palestinians now grow some 150,000 date palms on 12,000 dunams in the Jordan Valley, and produce some 2,000 tons of dates each year. The Palestinian Agriculture Ministry's goal is to raise this figure to 10,000 tons by 2020. Thus, the eviction orders last August were seen by the ministry and farmers as an Israeli effort to harm the export – and thereby protect Israeli exports.

Attorney Tawfik Jabarin, representing the farmers, appealed to the military appeals court at Ofer military camp. Jabarin informed the court that in February 1964, the Jordanian land and water court ruled that the plot is in full ownership of the Waqf – while today half of the plot is in Palestinian Authority-ruled Area A, while the rest is in Israeli-controled Area C.

Jabarin added that the eviction orders were not accurate regarding divisions of the plot, and handed the wrong orders to the wrong farmers.

Last week attorney Asaf Stern, representing the supervisor in charge of governmental and abandoned property in Judea and Samaria, wrote that "after checking … and examining various documents presented by the appellants … [and] without it being considered agreeing to their claims, [the supervisor] believes that he must deeply reexamine the orders and therefore does not insist on the enforcement of the orders which are therefore canceled."

Since 1967, Israel has gained control of at least 33,000 dunams of Waqf land, especially in the Jericho area, according to maps of areas released to Etkes by the civil administration after a long legal battle. Etkes believes that despite the state not admitting that these are Waqf lands, the cancelation of the decrees probably reflects the state's reluctance to open the pandora's box of expropriated Waqf lands. Palestinian Authority and Waqf officials have already declared that they are considering steps to regain their land, now in the hands of Jordan Valley settlers, especially since the Waqf lands were systematically registered and organized during the pre-1967 Jordanian era.

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