Court petition calls for Ofra demolition

Petitioners charge that nine new houses in Jewish settlement were built on private Palestinian land.

ofra 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ofra 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Two human rights organizations and five Palestinians on Wednesday petitioned the High Court of Justice against the construction of nine new houses in the Jewish settlement of Ofra which, they maintain, are being built on private Palestinian land. The petitioners charged that the Civil Administration had admitted to them that the construction was illegal and that it had issued stop-work and demolition orders against the project last year. According to the petitioners, in addition to the nine houses, work is being done to level Palestinian-owned land for the construction of an additional 15 to 20 units in the same area. The petition was filed by the human rights groups Yesh Din and B'Tselem, along with Sa'id Shehadeh, Mustafa Hamed, Rashed Zaglul, Ra'ik Massalah and Ruad Massalah from the village of Ein Yabrud, adjacent to Ofra. Attorney Michal Sfard, who represents the petitioners, called on the court to implement the stop-work and demolition orders immediately. "The assistant to the head of the civil administration wrote in her letter [to me] that 'the continued handling and demolition of the buildings will be determined according to the permanent regulations and the priorities for dealing with illegal construction,'" he wrote. "These words, as we know from our rich experience in similar matters, mean, 'when we receive political approval,' or in simpler terms, 'never,'" he went on. "Once again, as in many other instances of illegal construction by settlers in the occupied territories, the law enforcement authorities humiliate themselves and us by issuing orders they have no intention of enforcing. The construction, even though it is illegal, proceeds at full speed and without interference." According to Sfard, the reason the building is illegal and cannot be legal is that there is no outline plan for the development of the settlement, it has no fixed boundaries and has never been constituted as a local authority. Therefore, there is no one to give building permits and no basis for approving them. But Sfard continued that most of Ofra had been built this way. According to the petition, Ofra was established by settlers who allegedly originally came to the area in the guise of workers based at an abandoned Jordanian army camp inside Ein Yabrud. Eventually they moved out of the buildings and established a settlement within the camp and without government permission. Sfard acknowledged that the land for the military camp may have been expropriated from its owners by the Jordanian government for security needs. At any rate, the settlement moved beyond the confines of the camp, and building was begun on privately owned Palestinian land that had been registered in the name of its owners before the 1967 Six Day War. Although the government eventually approved the establishment of a settlement inside the former Jordanian base, it has never established its boundaries or its administrative status. From that point of view, Sfard said, the new buildings currently under construction on private Palestinian land are no different from most of the other housing in Ofra. "They are no more than a long chain of illegal building and building without permits, an endless chain of ignoring the rights of the petitioners and of Palestinians throughout the West Bank," wrote Sfard. "These rights have been violated and are still being violated in a crass way in order to establish the Jewish communities in the West Bank."