High Court rejects settlers' request to remain in disputed house until its status decided.
By DAN IZENBERG, TOVAH LAZAROFF
The inhabitants of a disputed four-story building in Hebron have three days to leave of their own free will, the High Court of Justice said on Sunday. After that, the police will be authorized to force them out.
The dramatic ruling could lead to a violent confrontation between Hebron settlers and their supporters and security forces, since it is unlikely the inhabitants of the building they call Beit Hashalom will leave voluntarily.
Recently, there were clashes between settlers and the police and army over the demolition of a makeshift home inhabited by settlers near the Jewish neighborhood of Tel Rumeida in downtown Hebron.
The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip called Sunday's decision "scandalous. Once again, the High Court did not let the facts get in the way. The Hebron [Jewish] community has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they purchased the building. In spite of this, the government, the state prosecution and the court have joined forces to evict them from the building."
Meanwhile, the Council of Rabbis of the Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said it forbade the settlers from leaving the building.
"All of Israel belongs exclusively to the Jewish people," it said in a statement. "It is forbidden to assist in any way the expulsion of Jews and the sacrifice of a settled area.
"We want to issue a holy call that those who can must act to thwart the edict that endangers the State of Israel and the Land of Israel.
"We want to emphasize that permission has not been granted to sacrifice any settled area of Israel, and certainly not a building that is located in the heart of Hebron, the city of our forefathers."
Far-right activist Baruch Marzel of Hebron said he had opposed petitioning the High Court in the first place because it was useless. "We should have gone to straight to battle," he said. "Only in battle will we win. We have to do what any normal person would do, fight with all means possible for our homes and our property."
But he would not elaborate on the method of battle.
Chabad Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe, who heads SOS Israel, offered to pay the families of soldiers NIS 1,000 for every night a soldier sat in jail for refusing to take part in the evacuation of the building.
The unanimous decision to order the settlers to leave the building was handed down by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Justices Ayala Procaccia and Salim Joubran.
The petition was filed by a settler company, Tal Construction and Investment-Karnei Shomron, and the Association of Renewers of the Jewish Community in Hebron against a police decision to evict the inhabitants under a military order against "fresh trespass."
The order states that if someone seizes property illegally, the person who was legally in possession of the property may evict the trespasser within 30 days. He is permitted to use reasonable force to achieve this.
On March 19, 2007, some 150 settlers took over the empty building located on Worshipers Way, between Kiryat Arba and Hebron's Machpela Cave. They claimed they had purchased it through a Palestinian front man from Faez Rajabi, the man who built it.
Rajabi, however, lodged a complaint with the police, claiming that he had not sold the building. He also petitioned the High Court, calling on it to order the police to help him evict the settlers.
After studying documents provided by the settlers to prove their purchase claim, the police concluded that the documents were forged and Rajabi was still in possession of the building on the night the settlers moved in. Therefore, the police agreed to evict the settlers in accordance with the "fresh trespass" order.
In response, the settlers, represented by attorney Nadav Ha'etzni, petitioned the High Court to cancel the police decision on the grounds that they had indeed paid in full for the building and taken possession of it and that Rajabi was a liar. The court postponed its decision on the matter for a year and a half because a separate legal procedure was taking place in a military appeals court on the status of the building.
However, during a hearing on October 29, the High Court announced it was not prepared to wait any longer for the appeals court decision.
On Wednesday, it ruled that the state's decision to evict the settlers was legal and reasonable. The state had sufficient administrative evidence to act on the grounds that Rajabi was still in possession of the building on March 19.
It added, however, that although there was enough administrative evidence to justify the state's decision, the question of who actually owned the building and who was in possession of it on March 19 ought to be heard in district court, which is authorized to examine evidence and hear testimony. The High Court may only consider written depositions filed by the parties to the dispute and the oral arguments of lawyers in support of the written depositions.
Procaccia, who wrote the decision, said, "Under the circumstances, the [settlers] should have turned to the court to prove their right to the building and refrained from taking the law into their own hands by unilaterally taking over the building without the agreement of the possessor.
"Considerations of public order are behind the rule whereby a dispute over ownership of a property should be heard in court and not resolved by force by the disputants themselves. Whoever changes the status quo without the agreement of the person in possession is regarded as the one who broke the peace. Therefore, the right thing to do is to restore the situation to the status quo ante by removing the trespasser from the building and directing him to the [district] court to make his claims."
Procaccia added that, even though by law the building should be returned to Rajabi until the ownership dispute is heard in district court, he had agreed to leave the building in the hands of the state.
The army will make sure that no one enters the building in the meantime.
Meanwhile, Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer said, "We are hoping that the Defense Ministry will not try to play with this decision and will enforce the law even if it is a challenge for Israeli society and the defense forces."
He warned that it would be a mistake for the Defense Ministry to ignore the decision.
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