High Court orders state to demolish outpost homes on private Palestinian property

By
November 19, 2013 08:37

Court chastises state for dragging feet on outposts; state has 6 months to raze homes in Givat Assaf, Mizpe Yitzhar and Ma'aleh Rehavam.




A sign post is seen at the entrance to the West Bank settler outpost of Givat Assaf near Ramallah.

Givat Assaf sign 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The High Court of Justice chastised the state for failing to live up to its legal obligations with respect to West Bank outposts, as it ordered the demolition of Israeli homes built on private Palestinian property in three hilltop communities: Ma’aleh Rehavim, Givat Assaf and Mitzpe Yizhar, within six months.

The court issued its ruling in response to a 2007 Peace Now petition seeking to demolish six outposts in their entirety with the claim that they were illegally built.

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On Monday the court decided that if legally possible, it would allow the six outposts to remain.

While some homes in the outposts are set for removal, the rest of the homes will be allowed to remain.

The other three outposts stated in the petition – Mitzpe Lachish, Givat Haroeh and Ramat Gilad – will be allowed to remain in their entirety.

The court ordered the state to take active steps to legalize the homes built on state or “survey land” of unclear ownership within five of the six outposts.

The only exception was Givat Assaf, which was initially built on private Palestinian property, and has since been mostly purchased by the settlers.

The ruling rejected the Peace Now petition to force the removal of all six outposts, but penalized the state for its conduct during the petition and ordered it to pay Peace Now NIS 25,000.

“I’m sorry we got this far,” Supreme Court Deputy President Miriam Naor said. “I’m sorry it is no longer possible to rely on the state prosecutor’s declarations to the court.”

In the 15-page ruling, the court wrote that as of 2011, the state had based its responses to the Peace Now petition around the question of private Palestinian property.

The court adopted a principled decision in March of that year that structures built on that land should be removed.

The state, in response to the petition, consistently stated its intention to the court to legalize the remainder of the homes in the outposts.

The court in its decision, written by Chief Justice Asher Grunis, reprimanded the state for its inconsistent policies with respect to the outposts, its failure to protect the rights of private Palestinian property owners and its irresponsible behavior toward the settlers.

Injunctions to remove all six outposts were first issued in 2004 and consistently renewed, but in the last nine years the state failed to execute those injunctions, Grunis said.

During the six years that the petition was before the court, it gave the state a number of opportunities to live up to its obligations. These chances were expressions of confidence that the state would do so, Grunis wrote. He noted that the state had breached that trust.

“The decision to order the demolition of homes on private Palestinian property is not one that is taken lightly, because it deprives people a roof over their heads,” Grunis wrote.

But this does not legitimate the state’s “continuous foot dragging,” as well as the state’s lack of law enforcement by which it allowed Israeli homes to remain on private Palestinian property for so long, Grunis wrote.

During the course of the case, more homes were built, he wrote.

Each time the state renewed the injunction that allowed the removal of the outposts, the implication was that it intended to destroy them, he wrote, yet such action was never taken.

Removing the homes is the right answer for the issues of rule of law and private property rights, Grunis said, and would be the execution of a policy that the state itself put in place.

One could learn a lot about the state’s attitude to the overall Peace Now petition from the way it handled the issue of the Givat Assaf outpost, Grunis wrote.

That small community of some 30 families is located at the T-Junction off Route 60, near the Beit El settlement.

Out of all six outposts in the petition, it is the only one solely built on private Palestinian property and as a result, it was always understood that it would be removed, Grunis wrote.

The state promised the court that the demolition would occur by the end of 2011, but asked for an extension so that they could do it peacefully, Grunis wrote.

But instead of taking down the homes, the state sent in a request to authorize two property purchases at the outpost, in which settlers bought homes from the Palestinian landowners, Grunis wrote.

Those two requests turned into five, and at present land purchase claims have been approved for 75 percent of the outpost, Grunis noted, adding that the state is now looking to legalize it.

“Such conduct is unacceptable,” he said.

Separately, Grunis said that the state’s actions with respect to property legalization were also not satisfactory.

Two years ago, the state took a principled decision with regard to authorizing homes on state and survey land in these outposts but never executed that decision, Grunis said.

Instead it continued to reauthorize the injunctions allowing the demolition of the same communities it claimed it wanted to legalize, he said.

He took particular issue with the state’s treatment of the settlers in the Ramat Gilad outpost, located in the Samaria region of the West Bank on the edge of the Karnei Shomron settlement.

In December of 2012, to stave off the demolition of their community, Ramat Gilad residents made an agreement with the state by which they would allow the homes in their outpost to be relocated from private Palestinian property to nearby plots of land that could be legalized.

The state, however, did not take the necessary steps to do so, and in the interim Palestinians have come forward to explain that they own the lots where the relocated Ramat Gilad homes now stand.

The state still claims that it intended to finalize the agreement, but was not able to do so because of the Palestinians’ claims, Grunis wrote.

He noted that the court itself could not determine whether those Ramat Gilad homes are on private Palestinian property.

Grunis charged the state’s treatment of the outpost as “inappropriate,” in that it made a deal with the outpost’s residents that it failed to keep, even though the settlers adhered to their part of the bargain.

The state failed to thoroughly examine the status of the land to which it relocated the homes, and even promised that the process would be completed in three months, Grunis said, noting that the state had not been able to keep that pledge.

The state has not offered another solution or a deadline for the advancement of the matter, Grunis said.

The court also spoke of the other four outposts.

The edge of Mitzpe Yitzhar is built mostly on state and survey land, but at the end of 2011, the state forcibly destroyed two homes in the settlement that were built on private Palestinian property.

Since then, four houses have been built there, one on private Palestinian property, Grunis wrote. The state told the court in May that it would remove that one home by the end of September, but has yet to do so, he said.

With regard to Mitzpe Lachish, the state wants to legalize it and turn it into a new neighborhood of the adjacent Negahot settlement in the South Hebron Hills by expanding Negahot’s boundaries, Grunis wrote.

The state plans to legalize those portions of the Ma’aleh Rehavam outpost that are located in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank. Grunis clarified that this would not include renewed building in the outpost, that has expanded onto private Palestinian property and into Area B of the West Bank, which is under Palestinian civil control.

Earlier this year, the state removed nine homes in the new part of the outpost. Since then settlers have constructed new structures in that area of Ma’aleh Rehavam.

The absence of an access road is a stumbling block to legalizing the Givat Haroeh outpost, located on the edge of the Eli settlement, Grunis wrote.

The only road is located on private Palestinian property and an alternative has yet to be found, Grunis said. It is unclear whether all options have been exhausted, he said.


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