High Court: Demolish illegal Palestinian homes

After unprecedented decision, right-wing vows to file more petitions over "illegal construction."

high court 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
high court 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
For the first time, the High Court of Justice on Wednesday ordered the state to demolish illegal structures built by Palestinians in the West Bank. Until now, the court had only ordered the state to implement demolition orders against illegal construction by Jewish settlers, since these were the only kinds of petitions that had been filed. In Wednesday's decision, Justices Edna Arbel, Elyakim Rubinstein and Hanan Meltzer ordered the state to implement demolition orders that the civil administration had issued against two Palestinian houses near the villages of Sauya and Yatma in the West Bank. It also ordered the state to prepare a schedule for demolishing other illegally built Palestinian houses against which it had issued but failed to execute demolition orders. The decision came in response to a petition filed by Regavim, which describes itself as "a non-political movement whose aim is to protect national lands and properties and to prevent other elements from illegally taking over national land resources." It is the first time that the High Court has ordered the state to demolish Palestinian buildings against which demolition orders have been served. Regavim's lawyer, Amir Fisher, said in the wake of the ruling that "as of tomorrow, we will file more petitions pointing to illegal construction and Palestinian outposts [a reference to clusters of illegally built housing] in Judea and Samaria." The court has already ordered the state to submit timetables for the demolition of illegal construction by Jewish settlers in many settlements and outposts. "The difference," said Michael Sfard, who has represented many of the petitioners, "is that in my cases, the settlers built on privately-owned Palestinian land." In the case of the two buildings in Sauya and Yatma, the ownership of the land is unknown but there is virtually no possibility that it is privately owned by Jews. In Wednesday's decision, the High Court quoted statistics presented by the state according to which the civil administration has issued 50 demolition orders against illegal construction in Sauya since 1996, but has only executed three of them. In Yatma, the civil administration has demolished 10 illegal houses since 1986 and has issued demolition orders against 30 others. During a hearing of the petition on September 3, Justice Edna Arbel expressed dismay at the figures. "Everyone would agree that it is very strange that over 14 years only three demolition orders were carried out in Sauya out of 50 that were issued," she said. At the same hearing, Justice Hanan Meltzer asked the state whether "the attitude towards illegal construction by Palestinians is the same as it is towards Jewish settlers? Is there a difference in the order of priorities?" The state's representative, Hila Gorny, had argued that the state could not be obliged to demolish illegal Palestinian buildings according to which ones were the subject of petitions to the High Court. Meanwhile, Alon Cohen-Lifshitz of the human rights organization Bimkom, told The Jerusalem Post that Israel has pursued a consistent policy of preventing new construction by Palestinians in Area C, which is under Israeli administrative and security control and compromises 60 percent of the entire West Bank. Sauya and Yatma are both located in Area C. "In the years between 2000 and 2007, the civil administration has issued an average of 60 demolition orders per month against Palestinian buildings in Area C and, at the same time, has approved an average of one request per month for building permits by Palestinians," he said. He added that building plans for the Palestinian villages in Area C were very limited and restricted, which meant that Palestinians cannot build there legally.