The High Court of Justice on Wednesday considered four petitions protesting the government's decision to freeze construction in the West Bank Jewish settlements, and said it was concerned about the allegedly vague compensation arrangements for those suffering economic losses as a result of the freeze.
At the same time, the court appeared to accept that the freeze order was proper and stemmed from government policy considerations.
According to a military order issued on November 26 by Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi, head of IDF Central Command, a three-person committee was to be established to hear compensation claims from settlers who had received building permits but had not begun construction or finished laying foundations before the order went into effect.
The military order was couched in vague terms, stating that "anyone holding a building permit who suffered direct expenses and financial harm as a direct result of the freeze," could apply to the claims committee for compensation.
The order also allows holders of building permits, under certain circumstances, including "exceptional cases and special reasons," to ask for an exemption from the freeze from the military commander. If the commander rejects their applications, the order allows them to appeal to the claims committee.
The panel of three justices, headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, sharply questioned the state's representative, Hani Ofek, on the compensation arrangements provided in the military order.
"Don't you have to determine compensation according to much more explicit and clear criteria?" asked Justice Ayala Procaccia.
Justice Neal Hendel said, "There is no incentive for completing the compensation process very quickly. The order includes no details. There is just a general declaration."
"Who may build? On what grounds can one claim damages? What can the plaintiff do after the claims committee makes its decision? Anyone who is hurt by the freeze must know all these things," said Procaccia.
At the end of the hearing, Beinisch turned to Ofek and said, "Regarding the possible damages to individuals, you must pass our comments on to whoever is authorized to deal with these matters."
The petitioners, represented by attorneys Yitzhak Bam, Shai Gabsi, Gilad Rogel and Mordechai Mintzer, presented many other arguments for their demand to cancel or at least postpone the freeze. They charged that the freeze was disproportionate in that it caused more damage than benefit. Another argument raised was that the military commander was only authorized to enact military orders dealing with the well-being of the civilians under his authority or for security reasons in accordance with international law. In the case of the freeze, the commander was allegedly carrying out government orders to achieve political aims, that is, as the government said, to encourage the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
The attorneys also charged that building permit holders were not the only ones to suffer economically from the freeze. Hundreds of settlers had sold their homes to buy land and build anew. In the meantime, they were paying rent and had not yet received their building permits for their new homes, often for bureaucratic reasons.
But the court did not appear to be concerned with these arguments and concentrated on the lack of clarity of the compensation provisions included in the order. The justices were also told that almost three weeks after the freeze order went into effect, the compensation claims committee had not yet been established.
The petitioners requested an interim injunction to suspend the freeze order as well as a show cause order calling for its cancellation. The court will hand down a decision on the requests in the coming days.