'Ofra sewage plant can’t be used until land dispute solved'

High Court judges say NIS 7.8m state-funded sewage facility built illegally on private Palestinian land in Ofra settlement.

ofra settlement 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ofra settlement 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
High Court judges issued an injunction Wednesday prohibiting the West Bank settlement of Ofra from using a sewage-treatment plant constructed in the area.
The High Court hearing was in response to a petition filed by human rights group Yesh Din, on behalf of residents of the Palestinian village of Ein Yabrud.
According to the petitioners, the whole of Ofra – a 3,000- strong settlement in the Northern West Bank, about 25 kilometers from Jerusalem – is built illegally on land belonging to the Palestinian villages of Silwad and Ein Yabrud.
However, their petition relates only to a sewage-treatment plant that they claim was built on private land in Ein Yabrud.
Petitioners said that the statefunded NIS 7.8 million, 37- dunam sewage facility – 4 dunams above ground and 33 below – was built illegally on their land. Even though it was illegal, the the sewage-purification plant was largely paid for by the National Infrastructures Ministry.
The legal dispute over Ofra’s sewage plant has raged for years. Ein Yabrud residents petitioned the High Court over the matter in 2009, a year after the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria issued a final stopwork order and an order to demolish the facility.
Yet the state found no other solution to treating Ofra’s sewage.
In its reply to the High Court, the state responded that it was considering connecting the village to the plant in Ofra, since Ein Yabrud also does not have an adequate sewage system. Ein Yabrud villagers refused the offer.
In Wednesday’s hearing, State Attorney Roi-Avihai Shvika admitted that there had been a problem in using government funding for a building that had been constructed illegally.
Shvika told the court that if judges ruled to demolish the facility, another solution would have to be found for dealing with Ofra’s sewage.
Attorney Michael Sfard of Yesh Din, who is representing the petitioners, asked the court to impose a deadline on the state to come up with a solution.
“The petitioners are excluded from their land,” said Sfard.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch issued an injunction ruling that the building cannot be used or expanded until the current dispute is solved.
The ruling prohibits the sewage plant’s operation – including its connection to the electricity grid – until such time as a legal solution is found to the facility.
If the authorities do not manage to rectify the legal situation of the sewage facility within the next few months, it will have to be demolished.
According to Sfard, to solve the legal issues over the use of the land, the state will need to reach an agreement to lease the land from the local Palestinian villagers. The state will then need to negotiate a further agreement with the Palestinian- Israeli Joint Water Committee.
Following that, the state will have to obtain the requisite planning and construction permits from local and government committees.
According to Sfard, there is very little chance of this happening.