Last week’s struggle over the Bet El neighborhood called Ulpana exposed a
massive judicial and administrative failure involving the State Prosecutor, the
Civil Administration and ultimately the High Court of Justice.
began in 2007 when Harbi (Harvey Ibrahim Mustafa) Hasen, a Ramallahborn US
citizen and current resident of the Palestinian Authority-administered town of
Dura al-Qara, near Bet El, applied to register land. Assisted by Peace Now and
Yesh Din, Hasen claimed that he had inherited property in Bet El from his
father. He brought as proof a document from a Shariah court in Ramallah. The
Civil Administration accepted Hasen’s claim without the presentation of a will,
without verifying who owned the land and without questioning Hasen’s rights of
Hasen apparently claimed rights to succession, but the
Succession Order could not have settled competing rights to the property, not
only between Arabs and Jews, but family members as well, particularly if all of
the putative owners did not participate in the proceedings.
prevailing land laws based on Ottoman, British and Jordanian procedures, if the
original owner was given state land (called Miri) but did not use the land or
pay taxes, the land reverts back to the state. Title to such land could not be
transferred without approval of the state.
The underlying question is
whether the claimant’s father had rights in the property.
What was the
basis for the original ownership claim? If the testator/decedent had no rights
in the property, or those rights had expired, then his successor could not have
had any. These questions were never asked and therefore never decided by state
institutions, or courts.
SPOKESPEOPLE FOR Bet El claim that the community
bought the land from someone who claimed to be the owner. The question of
ownership is currently in the Magistrates Court – the only judicial body
mandated to decide such questions. Because of the High Court’s decision,
however, that proceeding is now irrelevant.
Assisted again by Peace Now
and Yesh Din, Hasen petitioned the High Court for possession.
Prosecutor agreed that the land belonged to Hasen and demanded the removal of
the buildings. Since the High Court does not deal with questions of evidence and
Hasen’s claim was unchallenged, the court ruled in May 2011 that buildings on
the disputed land should be demolished.
THE SUPREME Court could have
postponed the demolition order on equitable grounds to allow the government and
the current occupants time to resolve the matter. There was no need for
Similar cases in which claims that Jews had built
on “private Palestinian land” were resolved when the High Court ruled that
compensation be paid to the alleged owner and allowed the buildings to
Lost in debates over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
maneuvering around proposed legislation to legalize and protect Jewish
neighborhoods slated for destruction is what appears to be essentially a legal
and judicial fraud.
Misled by the State Prosecutor, the High Court’s
decisions, therefore, in the case of Ulpana and other disputed areas were based
on misinformation. Since the court was aware of probable discrepancies, however,
and did not seek an opinion from the lower court, or all affected parties, the
High Court is also culpable.
When the State Prosecution appealed to the
High Court for a re-hearing in May, 2012, they did so on technical grounds,
rather than admit that they had misrepresented the interests of the state. A
panel of three justices – all of whom oppose Jewish settlement – refused. And
there is no procedure to appeal.
This explains why Knesset legislation is
needed to provide a legal remedy in such cases.
MK Uri Ariel, head of the
Knesset’s State Control Committee, has asked the Comptroller to investigate the
Ulpana affair, but it is doubtful that anyone can change the existing judicial
system without a thorough investigation and Knesset legislation.
disputes must be resolved by courts, not by bureaucrats.
recommendation might be to restrict the High Court from hearing cases involving
land ownership disputes without prior examination and decision regarding
evidence by a lower court. Another would be legislation setting strict standing
requirements for petitioners to the High Court.
Allowing individuals and
NGOs to circumvent judicial procedures by petitioning the High Court abuses the
Tighter supervision and accountability from every part
of the judicial structure is essential.
If the rule of law and the
reputation of the High Court mean anything, they must be based on justice.
Unless this criterion is upheld, the High Court’s decisions regarding places
like Ulpana, Migron, Givat Assaf and Amona will continue to undermine not only
the judicial system, but Israel’s ethos.
Having made a wrong decision,
misled by the State Prosecutor, the High Court should have the integrity to
admit their mistake, revisit this case and enable a just and humanitarian
solution.The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist.