Israel to return farmland to Palestinian owners.

Good news? Maybe.

Bottom line, it should be good news: A 30-year-old wrong is to be made right. Landowners deprived of what’s rightfully theirs have been acknowledged. Israel is set to return a chunk of farmland to its Palestinian owners.

Yet there’s so much disheartening information woven through Monday’s good news that it’s hard to take that good news to heart. As Amira Hass reports in Haaretz:

Israel 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 [ILA] 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 that’s the be-all, end-all of the good news. The error has been acknowledged, and its rectification is in the works.

On the other hand: It took the reporting of outside sources for the ILA to turn its attention to its 30-year-old error, and having found in favor of the rightful owners, it took the ILA a year to inform them. And though the ILA reports that it informed the kibbutz of its decision a year ago—the kibbutz is still working the land.

Speaking with Hass, a kibbutz representative said:

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

I suspect that the landowners still don’t have their land back because “the ILA…in coordination with the Agriculture Ministry, is looking for alternative land for the kibbutz.” Which is to say: The government is choosing to continue to inconvenience the people it defrauded, rather than inconvenience the kibbutz. And the kibbutz, or at the very least the representative with whom Hass spoke, is happy to continue to benefit from someone else’s land in the meantime, even though they now know that the land was not the state’s to give.

Moreover, this one case is but a drop in a pretty big bucket:

Over the years, Israel, under various pretexts, has seized control of around 20,000 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land [in the Jordan Valley] and transferred it to [West Bank] settlements for agricultural use.

That’s more than 16 times the amount taken for Kibbutz Merav—and last I checked, there’s not much of a groundswell to return that land to its rightful owners.

Finally, given Israel’s repeated failures to abide by even its own Supreme Court’srulings, it would be wise to hold back on our celebrations until we see the land actually returned.

So maybe the news isn’t so much good as “promising.” We still have a ways to go before it’s actually good.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

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