West Bank settlement of Ofra north of Ramallah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The High Court of Justice on Sunday ordered the demolition of nine populated homes on private Palestinian property in the West Bank settlement of Ofra within two years.
“It is understood that this decision has painful and difficult implications for the residents and their families, who have settled and are integrated into the community,” outgoing Supreme Court President Justice Asher D. Grunis wrote in his decision on the case.
The case was decided by Grunis, incoming Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit.
The ruling follows on the heels of a High Court decision on December 25 to demolish within two years the Amona outpost of 45 families located on the outskirts of Ofra.
The Ofra decision is unusual, because “it is not often that the High Court rules that homes in a settlement should be demolished,” said Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Her organization – along with left-wing group Yesh Din and five Palestinian owners of the property – petitioned the High Court against the homes in 2008. At the time, the buildings were under construction, but since then, families have moved into the stone structures.
Attorney Shlomy Zachary, who represented Yesh Din and the Palestinian land owners, said that the Supreme Court had unequivocally clarified that property ownership was a basic right that must be protected by law.
He added that he hoped the state would now do some soul searching so that the “outrageous attitude” that had allowed the law to be broken in the first place would not be repeated.
Bezalel Smotrich, who is No. 9 on Bayit Yehudi’s electoral list, said the ruling “sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to the demolition of hundreds of similar structures in Ofra and other settlements.”
Ofra is located 15 kilometers over the pre- 1967 lines in the Binyamin region of the West Bank. It is outside the boundaries of the security barrier and is considered an isolated settlement.
The community is considered a legal settlement under Israeli law because the government approved it in the 1970s, even though it fails to meet all the technical criteria for an approved community.
An overall master plan for the settlement of 3,400 people was never approved and as such many of its buildings are considered unauthorized.
The settlement’s situation is particularly complicated because many of the homes are situated on land that is privately owned by Palestinians.
Last year, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria approved a master plan for a small portion of the settlement located on state land, in an area of the community that was formerly part of a Jordanian military camp.
But that master plan does not apply to these nine homes.
During the course of the case, settlers and the state argued that the homes should be allowed because the status of the land was no different than that of many other homes in the settlement.
The homes, they added, were built within the settlement and were not an attempt to extend the community’s boundaries.
Both the settlers and the state said they were concerned about the impact of a demolition order on the status of the rest of the settlement.
But Sunday’s ruling dealt solely with the nine homes.
The decision noted that the civil administration had issued multiple stop work injunctions against the homes while they were under construction.
It is not possible to allow the homes to remain standing since they are built on private Palestinian property, and there is a clear policy against such building, the justices said. Failure to demolish the homes would harm the rule of law and the rights of the Palestinian land owners, they added.
They ordered the defendants to pay the plaintiffs NIS 25,000. The justices noted that a February 8, 2017 deadline was given for the demolition to allow the families in the homes to find alternative housing.
In a minority opinion, Naor said she believed more time could have been given to explore the possibility of legalizing the homes, but that ultimately, she concurred with ruling’s conclusion. Grunis and Amit said it was unlikely that conditions existed that would allow for the homes to be authorized.