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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed the High Court of Justice on Sunday that he would not order residents of nine buildings in the settlement of Ofra, which were built on Palestinian ground, to evacuate their homes.
At this stage, Barak said, the residents' houses will also not be cut off from water, electricity and sewage services, nor will the houses be demolished.
The dispute involves a territory about one hectare big located north-east of Ramallah, where the lots are registered in Palestinians' names. Representatives of the Palestinians and human rights groups petitioned the High Court with a request to evacuate the Jewish residents.
The defense minister, through attorney Avi Licht from the State Prosecutor's Office, said in his response to the High Court that an injunction issued by the court in June 2008 instructed the state not to populate the buildings or make any use of them and that the defense ministry indeed followed the injunction to the letter.
However, he added that the injunction did not instruct the state to evacuate buildings that were already occupied before the injunction was issued, and it did not contain instructions to disconnect the houses from electricity, water or other services.
Barak said the injunction referred to the state only and not to the buildings' residents.
He went on to explain that he did not instruct the houses to be demolished because he understood the dispute over the land included other buildings and he did not want to determine a policy just for the nine buildings in question.
The defense minister said new buildings in Ofra would be dealt with in the framework of "general handling of illegal construction in Judea and Samaria."
Reactions to Barak's answer to the petition arrived from both the left- and the right-wing.
Peace Now issued a statement saying "Barak flaunts the rule of law. In the past few years, he has become the settlers' darling."
Attorney Shlomi Zecharia from the Yesh Din left-wing group, who represents the Palestinian residents jointly with the radical B'Tselem organization, said that "the defense minister betrays his duty, which obliges to preserve and protect Palestinian residents' property. This is a drastic increase in the politicization of enforcing the law against Israeli criminals in the West Bank and it is a phenomenon that must be uprooted."
The Committee of Binyamin Region Settlers, on the other hand, expressed pleasure with Barak's decision, saying "the decision is an encouraging sign that the Defense Ministry will cease from now on to cave in to pressure from the anti-Zionist extreme left-wing, which in the past few years has been systematically attempting to shatter and dismantle the Zionist endeavor."
The High Court of Justice is set to discuss the petition again on Monday.