Modi'in Illit neighborhood challenged

High Court of Justice to hear petitions against the legality of Matityahu East.

modiin illit (photo credit: Peace Now)
modiin illit
(photo credit: Peace Now)
A battery of lawyers tried to convince the High Court of Justice on Sunday to soften its interim injunction and allow homeowners who bought apartments in a new neighborhood in the settlement of Modi'in Illit to move in, even though the buildings were built illegally. The court said it would hand down its ruling on the request in the next few days. The lawyers included Renato Yarak, who represents the building companies Green Park Inc. Green Mount Inc. and Ein Ami Promotion and Development Company, Yoram Bar-Sela, who represents Heftziba Construction, Development and Investments Ltd., Gilad Rogel, who represents Modi'in Illit and Moshe Glick, who represents the Fund for Land Redemption, Planning and Development of Settlements. The lawyers informed the court that the last obstacle had been cleared away allowing for a new town planning scheme which provides the legal framework for the buildings that have been constructed or are under construction in the new Modi'in Illit neighborhood of Matityahu East in the territories. The court was told that the planning committee responsible for hearing objections to the plan had rejected all the objections submitted by residents of the neighboring Palestinian village of Bil'in, thus clearing the way for the final approval of the plan. Several months ago, the High Court issued an interim injunction freezing the project after learning that the buildings had not been built in accordance with the town planning scheme that was in force when the project was started. But the lawyers said Sunday there was no longer any reason to prohibit homeowners who had purchased apartments that were completed from moving in, now that the last obstacle to the approval of the new plan had been removed. Two of the justices, Supreme Court President Aharon Barak and Ayala Procaccia, made it clear that the planning procedure regarding the new town planning scheme would not be completed until the Supreme Planning Council made a final ruling on the project. But they appeared to be open to the possibility of loosening the interim injunction. Attorney Michael Sfard, representing Peace Now and villagers from Bil'in, called on the court to preserve the injunction and order the state to demolish the buildings because they had been built without valid permits. "The court has only two options," said Sfard. "It will either accept the illegal buildings and the affair will be forgotten in a year, or it can order the state to demolish the buildings and show that there is a price to be paid and there is deterrence against such actions." Attorney Eitan Geva, who represents some of the home purchasers, accused Sfard of acting out of spite. The state's representative, Orit Koren, told the court that demolishing the buildings would not be in proportion to the building violations that had been committed. The respondents in the case maintain that the construction in Matityahu East had never substantially violated the planning and building law. The planning authorities had already approved the new planning scheme in the past and the construction adhered to these plans, although some of the building had been started before the plan was approved. At the last minute, however, after the plan had been approved by the Supreme Planning Authority, the Interior Ministry ordered the planning authorities to redeposit the plan because the authorities had not published a notification in the Arab newspapers that it intended to approve the plan. This decision meant that the original planning scheme, which called for half the number of housing units as the new plan, remained in force. The buildings were built in accordance with the new planning scheme rather than the old one. The court also heard another petition on Sunday, asking it to return 900 dunams of land in Matityahu East to the residents of Bil'in because they had allegedly been taken over by the state in an improper procedure. The state asked the court to reject the petition out of hand because the disputed procedure had taken place 13 years earlier. The court will hand down its ruling on the petitioners' request for a show-cause order in the coming days.