Homes in the Beit El settlement, West Bank .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The High Court of Justice ordered the state on Tuesday to demolish 24 illegal housing units in two apartment buildings that are under construction in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.
The state has until July 30 to take down the structures, which are located on private Palestinian property that became part of the settlement in 1979 as the result of a military seizure order.
“A person who builds on private Palestinian property does so at his own risk,” Deputy Supreme Court President Elyakim Rubenstein wrote in the legal ruling.
This is the second time in less than a year that the High Court has ordered the state to remove the homes.
In September 2014, the court ruled that the 24 units must be razed by March 9 of this year. But in February, the contractor in charge of the project appealed the decision.
On Tuesday, the court said the contractor had not met the legal standards necessary for an appeal.
The contractor first began work on the housing project in 2010, even though he lacked the necessary authorizations to do so. The project is in an area of the settlement that lacks a master plan. Without such a plan, the civil administration cannot approve the project.
When the state learned that construction had begun in 2010, it issued a stop-work order that the contractor ignored.
In that same year, legal advocacy group Yesh Din petitioned the High Court on behalf of Palestinian owners of the property who were from the nearby village of Dura al-Kara.
Initially the state told the court it would take down the homes by April 2012.
But the state changed its stance and agreed to push to legalize the property as part of a deal it worked out with Beit El to secure the voluntary evacuation of the Ulpana outpost in the summer of 2012. Despite that, little happened to legalize the property until February of this year, when an IDF subcommittee gave its initial approval for a master plan that covers the section of Beit El where the two apartment buildings are located.
The private contractor and the state informed that court that final approval for the plan could be issued by the end of July. They argued that it made no sense for the court to insist that the 24 housing units be demolished just days before the homes could be legalized.
But Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor said news of the plan’s pending approval was not the kind of new information that could be used to reopen the case.
When the court issued its September ruling, it knew that the approval of a master plan was a possibility, but it decided not to wait for a legalization process to occur, Naor said.
Rubinstein added that the court wanted to prevent instances in which people built first and sought authorizations only after the fact.
Alluding to the problematic nature of land laws in the West Bank, he noted that under normal circumstances, legal recourses could have been available to solve the problem without destroying the homes.
“But that is not the reality,” he said.
Yesh Din attorney Shlomi Zachary, meanwhile, said it was “unfortunate that time and again, there are parties who refuse to accept past verdicts and the rule of law.”
However, Beit El spokesman Yael Ben-Yashar, echoing the arguments of the contractor and the state, said it was “illogical to be forced to destroy homes by July 30, when it could only be a matter of days before they could [legally] be rebuilt.”