Supreme Court of Israel.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday ordered the demolition of 17 homes at the Derech Ha’avot outpost, but has allowed the state and the homeowners the right to appeal within 90 days.
The ruling imperils the future of 17 unauthorized settler homes in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, which the state had hoped to legalize.
It is the latest twist in a 12-year legal battle on the part of Palestinian land owners who had first petitioned the High Court against the outpost in 2002.
“After 12 years, the time has come for the homes to be demolished and for the court to reject the excuses of the state,” attorney Michael Sfard said on Monday after a hearing on the matter. He represents both the Palestinian landowners and the left-wing non-governmental group Peace Now.
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl complained that there were other legal options the court could have explored.
Construction at the outpost, located just outside the Elazar settlement, began in February 2001. According to the 2005 Talia Sasson report on West Bank outposts, there were no permits, although the Ministry of Housing and Construction provided NIS 300,000. Some of the construction was undertaken on land owned by Palestinians and on property whose status was unclear. Currently, there are 60 homes.
Four cases were opened and closed against the outpost. A fifth case, jointly filed by the Palestinian land owners and Peace Now in 2008, was closed in 2010 after the state declared its intention to legalize the outpost.
The state told the High Court that it planned to survey the area to determine ownership, saying that Jewish homes found to be on land belonging to Palestinians would be removed.
The survey eventually showed that 17 were on private Palestinian property, although the state made no moves to remove them. In October 2014, Peace Now asked the court to force the state to do so.
To save the structures, the Gush Etzion Regional Council has proposed a land swap or reparceling plan formally known as “unite and divide.”
It would offer the Palestinians alternative land in the same area in exchange for the ability to declare as state land the property on which the 17 homes sit.
According to council spokesman Yehuda Shapira, resolving land disputes in this way is an accepted legal practice everywhere in the country except the West Bank.
The High Court rejected a request by the state to delay issuing its initial verdict until it could study the matter.
Council head Davidi Perl said: “It’s difficult to understand why the Hight Court of Justice refused to accept such a logical proposal.”