JERUSALEM // Five Palestinians have filed a landmark claim against the Israeli government seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for letting Jewish settlers illegally seize their hilltop land to build an unauthorised West Bank outpost. The 1.5 million shekel (Dh1.5m) claim accuses the state of "betraying its legal and moral obligations" and "helping the thieves by its actions and failures" by allowing construction of Migron.
The community, home to 43 families, is one of the largest of more than 100 settlement outposts dotting the West Bank. This is a "dangerous" case of "cops and robbers joining forces", says the writ, filed in Jerusalem magistrates' court by the Israeli rights group Yesh Din. The group's lawyer, Michael Sfard, said today that while Palestinians have sued before to reclaim confiscated land, this is the first time they have sought damages.
In this case, they are seeking estimated income lost because landowners could not cultivate their confiscated fields. There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Israel's Justice Ministry. The state has 30 days as of yesterday to submit its defence. Settlers said they don't intend to budge from Migron, which lies north of Jerusalem. "The settlers have said several times that they don't plan to leave," the settler spokesman Yitzhak Shadmi said.
Now that the case has reached a lower court, "the courts will have to decide whether it's their [the Palestinians'] land or not", Mr Shadmi said. "If its theirs, we'll see what happens. It's not clear it's their land." The government has already acknowledged that the land upon which Migron was built is registered to private Palestinian owners. But it has not evacuated the wildcat enclave, which the claim says includes 60 mobile homes and two permanent structures, as it has committed to do. Israel's Supreme Court is to hold a hearing on the delayed evacuation next month.
Migron is one of the more than 100 outposts settlers began building in the 1990s in a bid to break up Palestinian areas and try to prevent establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Many of the outposts stand near existing, authorised settlements, in effect extending their reach. Most consist of a few trailers on West Bank hilltops, though a few, such as Migron, are home to dozens of families. Nominally, the outposts weren't authorised by the state. But a state-commissioned report from 2005 accused the government of being complicit in their construction and paying for the road, sewage, water and electrical works built to support them.
The Israeli government has promised the US it would dismantle two dozen outposts set up after March 2001, but none have been evacuated. *AP