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13.2.2013

Almost a decade after the military uprooted dozens of ancient olive trees: Israel will pay the plot owner ILS 27,000 in compensation

In early 2004, soldiers put up a notice in a plot of 400 ancient olive trees located near Jenin, informing that the military was about to prune some trees in the plot, due to "imperative military purposes." It did not specify how many trees were to be pruned, their location, or method of pruning, and did provide a reasoned explanation for the action.

The military rejected HaMoked's objection, filed on behalf of the owner, which sought to prevent the "clearing" operation. Following a petition HaMoked filed to the High Court of Justice (HCJ 1321/04), the State announced that "the original operational demand concerned a chopping down, encompassing some 50 trees. In order to minimize the damage to the residents, it has been decided that only some 20 trees would be pruned." In March 2004, the Court erased the petition. The justices accepted the State's notice of the reduced form and scope of the clearing operation, and included in the judgment the State Attorney's Office announcement, whereby "if a civil claim for damages be filed, the claim will be examined according to its merits, and presumably in a favorable spirit."

Several days later, the military uprooted 20 olive trees in the plot, contrary to the HCJ's judgment which permitted only limited pruning of trees. Moreover, in August 2005, the military cut down 75(!) additional olive trees in that plot, without any prior notice and without granting the plot owner the right to appeal against the decision.

HaMoked wrote to the military a letter demanding the military to investigate the illegal uprooting of trees and a letter seeking compensation for the damages suffered by the owner. Both received no pertinent response. In February 2006, the plot owner filed through HaMoked a damages claim against the State. HaMoked asserted that the ancient olive plot is the only source of livelihood of the owner and his family; that the military had blatantly violated the HCJ's judgment; and that the clearing operation had been unjustified and illegal, and executed in an unreasonable and unbalanced manner. HaMoked further argued that the State had also breached its duty to investigate the case and take administrative or criminal action against those responsible.

In its statement of defense, the State claimed that the olive-tree felling followed a "professional-operational decision" and in any event, it constituted "wartime action" (which releases the State from liability). As part of the protracted proceedings, as OPT residents, the plaintiffs were required to deposit a security bond of ILS 25,000 with the Court, to cover the possible award of State costs.

On February 4, 2013, after proceedings dragged on for years, the parties reached an agreement, recorded as a court judgment, whereby Israel would pay the plaintiffs ILS 27,000, without accepting liability.
mail@hamoked.org.il (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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