Homes in West Bank settlement.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The High Court of Justice ordered the demolition of five apartment buildings in the midst of construction in the Beit El settlement by March 9, 2015.
The ruling, announced Monday night, ended a four-year case before the court that was opened in response to a Yesh Din petition on behalf of the Palestinians from the nearby village of Dura al-Kara who own the property.
The three judges that reviewed the case concurred that the property was registered to Palestinians. It added that there was no master plan for the property lots in question and that no building permits had been issued for the construction.
But over the four years, the simple property issue had been complicated by two requests on the part of the plaintiffs and the defendants.
The IDF had initially agreed to remove the structures, but then asked for a number of delays based on its list of priorities with regard to allocation of resources.
The Beit El Regional Council said it believed the construction could be retroactively legalized, even though it was on private Palestinian property. It said it wanted to submit building plans for the project.
Yesh Din, in turn, expanded the scope of its request and asked that the property in question be returned to the Palestinians by rescinding a 1979 military seizure order that had initially deprived them of the land.
Its attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomy Zachary argued that the order failed overall to meet the legal necessary legal qualifications because it was not published, and the time of the order and its exact boundaries were unclear. They limited their request to rescind the order, however, solely to the 1.4 hectares on which the new construction was located.
Sfard and Zachary questioned the relevancy of the seizure order to those 1.4 hectares. The land was taken for military purposes, which they argued were no longer relevant, particularly given that the 1.4 hectares in question had never been used until recently.
The court’s president, Asher Grunis, who wrote the majority opinion, rejected attempts by both sides to expand the scope of the legal question in front of the court.
“The construction is illegal, if only for the reason that it was done without a permit and without a master plan in place,” Grunis wrote.
It was possible to make that determination, he said, without addressing the issue of the 1979 seizure order. Similarly, he noted that as of the end of October 2013, no building plan or master plan for the homes had been submitted to the Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria.
The permitting process could take years, he said, and even then, it is unclear if the property could be authorized. He referenced a policy put in place by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in February 2011, that illegal construction on private Palestinian property should be removed.
But deputy president of the court, Miriam Naor, wrote a dissenting opinion on the issue of the land seizure order.
She said it was relevant to the situation and rejected the arguments put forward by Yesh Din.
The 1979 order was well known to the relevant parties, including the Palestinian land owners and the relevant settler councils. The boundaries of the Beit El settlement is also known and the property in question is within the settlement’s security barrier, she said.
The land is part of the settlement and it is not possible to return it to the Palestinian property owners, Naor said.
She added that she believed building plans could have been authorized within a reasonable time frame of a year. Naor said she believed the settlers should have been given time to do that, particularly given that the state had said there was nothing that prevented the examination of such plans.
Still, she concurred with the overall opinion that the construction project was built on private Palestinian property without the proper authorizations and was, therefore, at present time, illegal.