Court ponders 'illegal' neighborhood

The High Court of Justice will have to decide whether or not to lift an interim injunction barring dozens of families from occupying finished apartments that were built illegally in a new neighborhood of Modi'in Illit. On Wednesday, a panel of three justices headed by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak heard lawyers representing several building companies and residents' groups argue in favor of at least partially lifting the interim injunction issued by Justice Ayala Procaccia on January 12. Procaccia had ordered an immediate halt to the construction of the apartment buildings in the new neighborhood of Matityahu East and "all steps leading to the occupancy of the finished apartments, including transfer of ownership, occupancy or use." She issued the injunction after learning that the houses were being built according to a town planning outline that did not receive final approval because of procedural flaws, including the fact that, contrary to the law, notification of the plan had not been published in Arabic. An earlier outline scheme applying to the same neighborhood was legally in effect, but it provided for half the housing units in much smaller apartment buildings than the new plan did. Attorney Shlomo Politis, who represented the homeowners in the Green Park project, told the court his clients were suffering because of the interim injunction. "Some of the purchasers live in Jerusalem and work in Modi'in Illit; some live in Modi'in Illit and are paying rent because they sold their old homes to pay for their new ones; some of them are poor," said Politis. According to attorney Yoram Bar-Sela, who represented the Hefziba Construction Company, 70 of the 300 units the company built were occupied before the interim injunction went into effect, 70 more families would have already moved in to their homes had it not been for the interim injunction and another 93 would have been able to move in soon. Bar-Sela called on the court to let all those whose apartments were completed move in. "Why should we torment these people?" he asked. Attorney Renato Yarak, who represented the Green Park and Green Mount construction companies, said that although the law had been violated, the violation was not so severe, given the fact that there was a legal outline plan calling for residential housing in the area. In an angry rebuttal, attorney Michael Sfard, representing the petitioner, Peace Now, said the construction companies knew very well that the permits they had received were illegal since they were based on a plan that had not been approved. "The residents are in a wretched position because of the building companies," he charged. "Two of these companies have committed the biggest building violations since Israel occupied the West Bank." Sfard charged that some of the construction was on privately owned land belonging to farmers from the nearby village of Bil'in. "We are talking about stolen land," he said. "No one has proven that the land was purchased by Jews." He added that the building companies should be punished for breaking the law. The state's representative, Orit Koren, told the court she opposed allowing the companies to resume construction, but indicated that she was less opposed to lifting the interim injunction on the occupation of the apartments that had already been completed.