Palestinian farmers on Thursday reclaimed lands they had lost decades earlier to an Israeli community, celebrating a rare legal victory their lawyer said illustrates that Israel's settlement enterprise is reversible.
In the 1970s, Israel seized several hundred acres from residents of the northern West Bank village of Burqa to build the Israeli community of Homesh, which was razed in 2005 along with three other communities in connection with Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
However, Palestinians were not allowed to return to their lands after the demolition of Homesh because the Israel Defense Forces did not rescind the land seizure order and prevented access to the area, said attorney Michael Sfard, of the Israeli rights group Yesh Din.
After more than two years of court petitions, the IDF agreed several months ago to rescind the seizure order, and last week lifted access restrictions, Sfard said. The IDF confirmed it had acted in line with the petitions.
On Thursday, farmers returned for the first time. "I feel as if I was dead and now I am alive again," said Fathallah Hajjeh, 64. "I have never felt such joy. We are rooted to this land."
About 500 acres of land were reclaimed, said Emad Saif of the Burqa local council.
The return of the land shows that "the settlement project is reversible," said Sfard.