The state is suing two right-wing groups in Hebron for NIS 305,000 for forcing it to evacuate residents of a disputed building in Hebron, after the Supreme Court had given the occupants three days to leave of their own free will.
According to the Justice Ministry spokesman, the lawsuit for damages is part of a new strategy by the state to deal with illegal property seizures.
“The state prosecution intends to continue filing such torts whenever necessary,” the spokesman wrote. “These lawsuits, like others, are being advanced by the prosecution as part of a strategic concept according to which the state must make use of civil tools to safeguard the rule of law and the public coffer.”
On March 19, 2007, about 150 people broke into the building on Worshiper’s Way, the road between Kiryat Arba and the Machpela Cave, claiming they had purchased it from Faez Rajabi, the Palestinian who built it. Rajabi denied having sold the building and demanded that the police evacuate the alleged trespassers. The police concluded that the settlers’ purchase documents were false and agreed to evacuate the squatters.
The Tal Construction and Investment Company, Karnei Shomron and the Association of Rebuilders of the Jewish Community in Hebron petitioned the High Court of Justice to prohibit the police from evacuating the building, which the settlers called Beit Hashalom.
On November 16, 2008, the court rejected the petition and ordered the occupants to leave within three days, after which police could forcibly remove them. The residents ignored the ruling. On December 4, 2008, a large police force broke into the building and expelled the occupants.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, “the respondents, who acted in violation of the law and the express orders of the Supreme Court in its verdict, forced the state authorities to implement the evacuation of the property in place of the occupants, and even to invest large and unnecessary resources in coping with the uncontrolled protests of those who violated law and order in “response” to the evacuation…
“Had the respondents upheld the law and obeyed the Supreme Court ruling, it would have saved the expenses paid out of the public coffer.”
Haifa University Prof. Emmanuel Gross told The Jerusalem Post that the state had apparently come to the conclusion that in certain cases it was not enough to apply criminal sanctions against law-breakers, but that they should also pay for the costs accrued to the state in applying the law.
This should not be done automatically, he continued. In “regular” criminal cases, the state should not make the criminal pay the cost of apprehending him in a democracy.
But in cases like the disputed house in Hebron, it is justified to do so, he continued.
“The state is saying that it has learned the lesson from similar situations in the past. There is no justification for not holding someone financially responsible for knowingly causing the state expenditures, especially in a costly operation like the evacuation of illegal occupants. Such people should not take it for granted that they can do such things without paying a price.”
Hebron Jewish community spokeswoman Orit Struck said the decision was an assault on the democratic right to protest.
She recalled that in its November 16, 2008 ruling, the High Court of Justice did not order the state to evacuate, but rather upheld its right to do so.
In the days that followed the ruling and until the evacuation, the Defense Ministry, through its settlement and legal advisers, worked with the settlers toward a negotiated solution.
The evacuation took place in the midst of that negotiation, as a
document with such a compromise text was in the midst of being passed
back and forth between both sides.
Given that another solution was in the works, the state did not have to evacuate the settlers, it chose to, she said.
But there are other reasons as well why the petition should be rejected, she said.
In 2004, in advance of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, the Knesset
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee ruled that those who protest
the evacuation would be treated like any other citizen who demonstrated
against a government policy.
She added that it was inequitable to charge settlers for the cost
associated with the evacuation, when the state at the same time did not
also impose a similar charge for law enforcement on criminals such as
thieves, traffic violators, and so on.
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