'Pay Palestinians for private property, don’t raze homes'

Retired judge Uri Shtruzman sends letter to Netanyahu, A-G asking for retroactive legalization of outposts.

January 2, 2012 03:43
3 minute read.
Outpost demolition [file]

Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost 311. (photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))

Retired judge Uri Shtruzman called on state authorities on Sunday to refrain from demolishing West Bank homes, arguing there is no legal necessity to do so.

In a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, Shtruzman said the state should instead retroactively legalize unlawful building on state land in outposts in Judea and Samaria and consider compensating Palestinians for homes built on private land.

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The former Tel Aviv District Court judge told The Jerusalem Post he had sent the letter out of concern that judicial decisions to demolish unlawful buildings may have “political consequences that might affect the future of the State of Israel.”

In a document attached to the letter and given to the Post, Shtruzman cited the 2005 Sasson Report compiled by lawyer Talia Sasson, the former head of the criminal department at the State Attorney’s Office, which found that the Defense and Construction and Housing ministries had continued to support the construction of unauthorized outposts, despite a 1993 West Bank building freeze.

Citing a 1975 Supreme Court ruling on the validity of guarantees provided by government authorities, Shtruzman said that since the Sasson Report found that outposts had been built with government support, the state should “complete without delay the formal processes required to provide settlers with the appropriate permits.”

Shtruzman also said the state should not demolish those homes built on private Palestinian land, where a settler believed he had purchased that land in good faith, but was not recorded in in the land registry because the Palestinian seller refused to give his identity for fear of retribution.

Finally, Shtruzman compared the issue of Palestinians petitioning the High Court over illegal building on private land to that of Greek Cypriots turning to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over property rights in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus.

The former judge referred to a precedent-setting ECHR ruling from March 2010, in which the court rejected a property rights petition filed by Cypriot citizens displaced by Turkey in 1974 from their lands in northern Cyprus.

In that ruling, the court said it could not intervene because it faced so many repetitive or “clone” property claims, and asked the petitioners to first turn to the Turkish government for compensation. Israel, Shtruzman argued, could similarly offer Palestinians compensation rather than demolish homes.

Speaking to the Post on Sunday, Sasson, author of the Sasson Report, dismissed Shtruzman’s references to the European Court of Human Rights ruling as “absurd,” saying that according to international law all settlements in the West Bank are illegal, including those on state land.

Sasson said it would not be possible for Israel to offer Palestinians compensation for homes built on private land, because under Israeli law such building is illegal in the first place.

Sasson pointed to a precedent- setting 1979 High Court ruling over the Eilon Moreh outpost outlawing all new outposts on private Palestinian land, which stated he IDF could only confiscate private Palestinian land for security reasons and settlements may therefore only be established on state land.

The issue of state recognition of private land sales is a complex issue, Sasson further noted. If an Israeli citizen wishes to purchase land in the West Bank, he must first obtain government approval, and the sale is not legally complete until the purchaser records transfer of ownership in the land register, which requires proof the land was bought from its legal owner.

However, according to Sasson, since the IDF takeover of the West Bank, Palestinians have been prevented from registering land in their name, which makes it very difficult to prove ownership, and in many cases, a Palestinian signs a land sale contract, and a later investigation reveals that he was not in fact the legal owner.

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