Court slams gov't request to rethink Ulpana razing

State asks for 60 days to examine how it will implement plans regarding West Bank; Justice Joubran says state's "exceptional requests" becoming commonplace.

Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
The High Court of Justice sharply criticized the state’s request to cancel its ruling to demolish illegal structures in the Ulpana outpost on the outskirts to Beit El, during a hearing on Sunday.
The justices are expected to issue a decision on the matter within a few days.
Sunday’s hearing comes after the High Court ruled last September that the state must demolish the structures by May 1, after accepting a government pledge to raze the five stone apartment buildings in which 30 families live.
Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights petitioned the court against the outpost in 2008, on behalf of a group of Palestinians who claim the land belongs to them.
Ulpana residents have argued that the Beit El Yeshiva and Amana – the construction arm of the settlement movement – bought the land from its Palestinian owners.
They received state-guaranteed mortgages and grants to buy it.
Last week, the state asked the court to reopen the Ulpana case, and reconsider its ruling regarding demolishing the houses. The state said the demolitions would have tough implications for residents in Ulpana and Beit El.
Supreme Court President Asher Dan Grunis and Justices Salim Joubran and Uzi Vogelman heard the state’s request to reopen the case on Sunday.
At the start of the hearing, attorney Osnat Mandel for the state said that the government came before the court with a “most exceptional request” regarding Ulpana.
“The political leadership wants to examine how it will implement its policies [regarding West Bank outposts],” Mandel said. She later added that the state wanted “60 days to enable us to consolidate the moves we plan to make.”
Vogelman criticized the state’s request, saying that its pledge to the court “was not just a case of a voluntary commitment but a significant undertaking.”
“This means that for all court rulings, the state will come and say it has changed its policy and wants to reopen the case,” Vogelman added.
Mandel countered by repeating that the state believes that “these are very exceptional circumstances.”
The state attorney said that the most senior political echelons want to “examine the implementation of policy, not policy change.”
“Considering the whole issue of construction in the West Bank, there are very unique social, operational characteristics, and this is a very complex issue,” Mandel added.
However, Joubran asked why the state had not done this in the year since its announcement to the court in May 2011.
“These implications have been known for years – so what has changed?” he asked.
Joubran also slammed the state’s description of its request as “exceptional.”
“I have a problem with the definition of ‘exceptional request,’ it has become commonplace,” Joubran said.
Mandel replied that the state was making its request on a very narrow issue, to address very serious questions of property rights.
Since May 2011, she said, there had been more in-depth discussion regarding the implications of evacuating and demolishing buildings that have been populated for a long time, including regarding land claims.
However, Mandel acknowledged that the state has yet to contact the Palestinian petitioners about the issue.
“When we have a concrete solution we will ask them, but we don’t yet have anything to offer them,” she said.
Regarding the issue of land ownership in Ulpana, Joubran added that as yet, the settlers have not presented any purchase claims to the High Court.
Attorney Yaron Kosteliz, representing the Beit El settlement, told the court that the land sale was made in 2000, and that there had been a police investigation into whether it had been legal.
“The question remaining is whether the seller deceived the buyers,” Kosteliz said.
The issue of the land ownership in Ulpana is the subject of a civil suit in the Jerusalem District Court. Settlers say the property was purchased legally from its Palestinian owner by the Beit El Yeshiva and Amana.
However, the sale was never registered with the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria.
The High Court and the state have not recognized the legality of the sale, and the Jerusalem District Court has not yet ruled on the settlers’ civil claim, filed in September days before the final High Court ruling on the issue.
Kosteliz told the court that the settlers had not turned to the civil courts back in 2008, when the Palestinians filed their High Court petition, because they believed they had a strong case in the High Court.
Attorney Michael Sfard, representing the Palestinian petitioners, slammed the state’s request and accused its representatives of “presenting themselves today as against the law, and they are harming it.
“I said in September’s hearing that they would not make good on their commitment,” Sfard said, saying he asked the court to issue a final injunction, even though this is not the usual procedure when the state pledges to undertake an action.
As the state had given a pledge to enforce demolition orders, the court did not issue a final injunction ordering the state to raze the buildings, and held that the legal process was complete.
Also on Sunday, the court heard a request by Meretz MKs Zehava Gal-On, Nitzan Horowitz and Ilan Gilon to add themselves the petition.
The lawmakers said they did so “to represent the silenced public interest on the issue of Ulpana.”
“The settler-haredi government of Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu], [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman and [Interior Minister Eli] Yishai are now spitting in the face of the whole of sane society,” the Meretz MKs said.
“The state’s request to cancel the final ruling and end the illegal outpost’s evacuation is an inconceivable insult,” they added.
In response to the hearing, a spokesman for the settlers said on Sunday that Ulpana residents were “confident the Israeli government will be held accountable for its promises to ensure that Ulpana will not fall.”
The settlers say that after the apartments were purchased in 2000, then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s government added infrastructure including gas, electricity, water and telephone connections as well as roads and sidewalks.
Twelve years ago the government also gave the settlers a grant of NIS 90,000 and other incentives, they said.
IDF officers live in the neighborhood as well as Torah scholars and hi-tech workers, the settlers said.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.