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Drastic Land Disputes Ordinance Enacted in Palestine: Signed by High Commissioner and Published As E

The drastic Land Possession Disputes Bill which was published in the “Official Gazette” in December, has been signed by the high Commissioner, General Sir Arthur Wauchope, and is published to-day as an extraordinary issue of the “Official Gazette”.

Jewish opinion has been critical of the Ordinance since it was published as a draft bill, objecting that it confers quasi judicial functions on the administrative officers and favours the persons in possession of the land against its owner, and the nomads against the settled population.

The Land Possession Disputes Ordinance as published in the “Official Gazette” in December empowered District Commissioners to make orders regarding the possession of land concerning which a dispute exists which is likely to cause a breach of the peace. It empowered the District Commissioner to summon the parties concerned to attend before him and put in written statements their respective claims, and after reading these statements to examine the parties, take evidence, and if possible decide who was in actual possession of the land at the time of the dispute. If it appears to the District Commissioner that in the two months preceding the dispute any party has been forcibly dispossessed, it said, he may treat the party so dispossessed as if he had been in possession at such date. In such a case the party shall be entitled to possession until evicted in due course of law. Proceedings under this Ordinance, it further provided, will be deemed to be proceedings before a Magistrate as regards taking evidence on bath service of orders, summonses and other documents, enforcements of orders and the like, but no appeal will lie against any order by the District Commissioner under this Ordinance.

An order made under this Ordinance, it said, will prevent the alienation of the land which is the subject of dispute, and a copy of the order will be served on the Registrar of Lands.

If the District Commissioner decides that none of the parties was in actual possession of the land in dispute, or is unable to satisfy himself which of them was in actual possession, he may order its attachment until a competent Court has determined the rights of the parties, but he may withdraw the attachment at any time if he is satisfied that there is no longer any likelihood of a breach of the peace.

The Ordinance also deals with the time-old custom of using lands or water for grazing, cutting weeds or reeds, watering animals, irrigation, fishing, or other like purpose, and empowers the District Commissioner to make an order prohibiting any interference with the exercise of such practice until a competent Court has decided whether a right to such uses exist.

A reference to this Ordinance was made in a statement contained in the last monthly review of the head office of the Jewish National Fund, quoted in the J.T.A. Bulletin as recently as yesterday, which, after pointing out the great difficulty encountered by the Jewish National Fund in maintaining the boundaries of its reserve lands in the Haifa Bay, in the Emek and in the Sharon, owing to trespassing, malicious as well as incidental, proceeds to say that “the curious feature of the situation is that there is in draft a bill which will give trespassers using other persons’ land by pasturing, watering or cutting reeds, definite rights to such land if they should continue such practice for two years. Naturally this is an incentive to undisciplined Arabs to occupy the reserve lands of the Jewish National Fund, thus compelling the Fund to place those lands under some form of occupation and cultivation, with the sole purpose of keeping intact areas legally acquired. Lands in reserve for urban and suburban development, must be turned over for intensive agriculture or afforestation, in order to avoid legislation having the effect of depriving the Jews of these reserve areas”.

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