Meltzer: Treat illegal Jewish and Palestinian construction equally

High Court considers whether government policy on illegal construction is biased towards Palestinians.

silwan house demolition 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
silwan house demolition 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Supreme Court Justice Hanan Meltzer on Thursday grilled the state on whether it treated illegal construction by Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank the same way it treated illegal construction by Jewish settlers. Meltzer's questions, directed at the state's representative, Hila Gorny, came during a hearing on a petition for an interim injunction by Regavim, filed against the state, for failing to demolish all illegal Palestinian construction in the vicinity of two villages, Sauya and Yatma, east of Ariel. 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," singled out three buildings currently under construction. The petition was filed on June 28. On July 7, the state issued stop-work orders against two of the buildings. Gorny explained that it did not issue a similar order against the third building because it was an addition to an already existing structure. The lawyer for the petitioner, Amir Fisher, demanded the state apply the same order of priorities for demolishing illegal Palestinian buildings as it did for illegal Jewish buildings. He told the court that since, according to the priorities established by the state, unfinished new construction should be dealt with immediately in order to prevent the houses from being inhabited, "we must strike quickly." Gorny said that a meeting was due to take place that same day to decide whether to issue demolition orders on the two houses or not. However, even if it issues demolition orders, the state is authorized to decide when to execute them. "The question," Meltzer asked Gorny, "is 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?" Gorny replied that there were different considerations for each one. "One of the considerations is whether the structure was built on private land or not. This consideration is not so relevant when it comes to Palestinian construction." "What difference does that make if it is illegal construction?" Meltzer asked. "According to the list of priorities of the Civil Administration, the military commander and the directives of the political echelon, when construction is carried out on land belonging to someone else, the considerations [as to whether to demolish it] may be different," said Gorny. "May be different or are different?" Meltzer continued. "It all depends on the context," replied Gorny. Meltzer then asked whether the state examines who owns the land upon which the Palestinians build homes. "The appropriate authorities know whether the land belongs to the state or is privately owned," said Gorny. "You know or you assume?" Meltzer continued. "In one case you examine and in the other you assume." Gorny said each case was examined individually. There were other considerations as well, such as whether an illegal building could cause security problems. Gorny added that the state could not demolish buildings according to someone's petition to the High Court. "We have only a few people who can do this kind of work," she said. "There are more urgent matters to deal with." Meltzer told Gorny, "The problem is that you do not have clear and orderly directives as to when you demolish homes and when you do not. These are needed to prove that there is no discrimination against one side or the other." In other developments, the High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction freezing the illegal construction by Jewish settlers of 15 houses in the settlement of Kochav Yaakov. The state had opposed the issuing of the order on the grounds that it had already taken action to prevent further work.