Attempts by the Israeli government to legalise land theft has been bumped off-course following a Supreme Court ruling contradicting a legal precedent which had granted a green light for illegal settlers to seize private Palestinian land.
Chief Justice Esther Hayut delivered a legal verdict yesterday following a petition from Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, in which Hayut commented on a controversial ruling from last year by Justice Salim Joubran , which effectively legalised the seizing of private Palestinian land.
Joubran, a Supreme Court justice, appeared to endorse Israelis building on private Palestinian land – even if it was not for security purposes – as long as the construction passed a proportionality test. Until then, the courts had been clear that Israelis could not build on private Palestinian land unless there was a security interest.
Joubran's ruling also contradicted international consensus. Under international law all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal and, until his decision, outposts were also illegal under Israeli law as they are built on private land on which Palestinians have claims.
The decision was regarded as the biggest legislative achievement in decades by the growing pro-settler movement. Having won over the Israeli population as well as the Knesset, which voted in 2017 to pass a law that legalised expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land, the high court was the only institution that stood in the way of legalising land theft and colonisation.
A minority of Israeli politicians saw the authorisation of illegal expansion as the beginning of Israel's road to The Hague, referring to the blatant violation of international law endorsed by the Knesset, which exposed Israel to prosecution by Palestinians in the International Criminal Court.
In her verdict, Hayut said that the previous ruling had endorsed a criminal reading of international law where Israelis could steal private Palestinian land, even as the rest of the world viewed this as violating international law.
Hayut concluded that the decision by Justice Salim Joubran in which he wrote that "the Israeli residents of the area [West Bank]… are also among the civilian population in the area," and that therefore the state "is obligated to act for their welfare… even by violating the property rights" of the original Palestinian land owners was a tool that could be used to legalise more illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank.
Hayut's ruling, which is bound to provoke a hostile response from senior members of the Israeli government, confirmed that her colleague's statements were nonbinding, legally problematic and likely contradicted prior court precedent.