'Find housing for Palestinians before demolitions'

High Court of Justice asks state to present plan for alternative housing for 27 families living in unauthorized homes in South Hebron Hills.

A demolished Palestinian home in east Jerusalem 370 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
A demolished Palestinian home in east Jerusalem 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
The High Court of Justice on Monday asked the state to present a plan for an alternative housing solution for 27 families living in unauthorized structures in the West Bank village of Khirbat Zanuta.
In 2007, the Civil Administration issued demolition orders against the structures in the South Hebron Hills. At the time, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel successfully secured an injunction order from the high court to stop the demolitions.
The case lay dormant until last year when Regavim, an organization dedicated to halting unauthorized Palestinian construction, revived it.
On Monday, the court heard a debate on the matter during which it also asked ACRI to provide a zoning plan for the area, or explain why no plan had been filed.
Both sides were given 30 days to respond to the court on these questions and other issues, according to ACRI and Regavim.
No official decision by the judges, however, was publicized as of press time.
According to ACRI, the village has existed at the site since before 1967, but the majority of its residents, who herd sheep for their livelihood, lived in caves.
It is only in the last few decades that they have begun to set up temporary dwellings, which have expanded in the past decade.
In court, ACRI attorney Nira Shalev explained that they need to live at this site so they can care for their sheep. If they are removed from their site, they will not just lose their homes, but also their livelihood.
“What little they have would be taken from them, and they do not have anything else,” Shalev said.
Justice Edna Arbel asked ACRI why it had not created a master plan for the village and attempted to file it with the Civil Administration, so that the homes could be legalized.
Shalev rejected the suggestion.
She said it was the state’s responsibility, not that of private individuals or organizations, to register a zoning plan for the village, through which the structures would be permitted.
Judge Hanan Meltzer echoed Arbel. He noted that the order against the structures had been standing for at least five years.
“What have you done in that time?” he asked ACRI.
Shalev said that it had not occurred to ACRI that the Civil Administration would accept a zoning plan for the village. It would consider presenting such a plan if it knew the state would accept it, she said.
But the state has not accepted similar plans for other villages, she said. ACRI assumed it would follow suit in this case, she said.
Shalev noted the state had already said that there was an issue because it claimed the structures were on an archeological site. But, she added, that is not the reason to drive 150 people from their homes.
Arbel asked the state if would accept such a plan.
State prosecutor Yitzhak Bart said that he could not evaluate a theoretical plan. But he noted that the homes were on an archeological site that predated them and had already been deemed of historical value at the time of the British mandate.
The village residents are using some of the archeological material for their homes, he said.
Under the circumstances, Bart said, it would be difficult for the Civil Administration to authorize a plan.
Meltzer asked what housing is planned for these villagers once their homes are demolished.
“I do not see a solution,” said Bart. “We do not have a plan for illegal buildings that were built in the middle of an archeological site,” he said.
“Then you must find an alternative for them,” Meltzer responded. He added that this was the job of a military commander.
Bart said he disagreed.
“The military commander does not need to find a solution for people who built without a permit.”
Arbel asked, “then where will the 27 families [who live there] go?” She added that the court was suggesting that they explore alternatives for the families.
Regavim attorney Amir Fisher, who is an unofficial party to the case, provided the court with information about the site.
Fisher said that 13 years ago there were only three structures, now there are dozens. He added that in the intervening years, the villagers received a number of injunctions against pending demolition orders and had continued to build.
Bart said many of the homes built were demolished and rebuilt between 2003 and 2007.
Shalev took issue with both Fisher and Bart’s characterization and accused them of trying to create the impression that the village had been only recently created, when it fact it dated back to before 1967.
She added that the residents had tried without success to seek authorization from the Civil Administration.
Arbel responded that since ACRI had not itself filed a zoning plan for the area, it could not now accuse the state of failing to do so.
Meltzer also chastised the village residents for building after the injunction against the demolition had been issued.