Court orders halt to Ofra construction

Judges also forbid population of homes which petitioners say are built illegally on Palestinian land.

ofra 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ofra 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The High Court of Justice on Thursday issued an interim injunction ordering Jewish settlers not to occupy nine new houses in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, to halt construction of the houses and not to connect them to the infrastructure after the state backed the petitioners' request for the temporary order. "The construction of the houses and their occupation are illegal," wrote the state's representative, attorney Avi Licht. "The construction was carried out in violation of stop-work and demolition orders." On June 4, five Palestinians and two human rights organizations, B'Tselem and Yesh Din, petitioned the High Court to implement stop-work and demolition orders which the state had issued against the nine houses. Their representative, attorney Michael Sfard, maintained that the land upon which the houses were being built belonged to the five Palestinian petitioners and was registered in the land registry as private Palestinian property. In the meantime, Sfard asked for a temporary injunction to prevent the settlers from inhabiting the houses and connecting them to water, electricity and sewage lines. On June 13, Ofra and the Binyamin Regional Council informed the court that the petitioners were too late. The houses had already been inhabited and there was no longer any point in considering the request for an interim injunction. On Thursday, however, the state backed the petitioners' request. In his response, Licht told the court that the land on which the houses were built "is registered in the name of Palestinian residents, albeit not those who petitioned the court." With regard to eight of the nine houses, the civil administration spotted the construction on June 5, 2007 and immediately issued stop-work orders. The occupants of the plot were also invited to a meeting of the inspection subcommittee of the Higher Planning Council in the territories. However, they failed to show up at the meeting, held later that month. The committee decided to issue demolition orders. The same set of events applied to the ninth house, which was first detected on November 23, 2006. According to Licht, the settlers ignored the stop-work orders and continued building. In the past few days, he said, the civil administration had lodged a criminal complaint with the police against the settlers for doing so. In a letter from the settlers' lawyer, Akiva Sylvetsky, to Licht to persuade him not to support the temporary injunction, Sylvetsky wrote, "the work on the houses began in June 2007. The construction wasn't concealed and was known to all. Therefore, my clients understood that under the circumstances, there was no objection to the construction in the same way as there was no objection to the construction of all the other houses in Ofra and that the military and political echelons did not oppose it."