Security forces clear Shvut Ami outpost

Six youths evacuated, wooden hut demolished; comes after state accepts illegal construction in Ofra.

outpost flag 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
outpost flag 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Security forces evacuated six youths from the Shvut Ami outpost overnight Saturday and demolished a wooden hut. No violence was reported at the site, located near Kedumim, in Samaria. It came after a week in which the state made clear to the High Court of Justice that it has accepted the illegal construction of nine new houses in Ofra, in response to a petition filed in June 2008 by two human rights groups and five Palestinians who claim to own the land upon which the houses were built. "After examining the circumstances, the minister of defense has decided to refrain, for the time being, from carrying out the demolition orders issued against the buildings," wrote Eitan Broshi, adviser on settlement matters to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in an affidavit to the High Court. Broshi added that parallel to this decision, Barak had ordered that from now on the authorities would enforce all building violations in the veteran settlement "in accordance with the order of priorities for enforcing the planning and building laws" in the West Bank. In the wake of this decision, wrote Broshi, the settlers had voluntarily "destroyed" 24 building starts on the margins of the settlement by covering up the foundations they had constructed. In return, the files against the illegal buildings were closed. But Broshi also made clear that enforcing building regulations in Ofra was low on the list of priorities for dealing with illegal construction in the West Bank. "As long as the government is taking action to enforce the law in Judea and Samaria according to a reasonable order of priorities, there is no reason for the court to order us to deal with this or that violation if it deviates from the order of priorities that we have established," he wrote. According to the petition, filed by attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomy Zachary, the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria had issued stop-work and demolition orders against the nine houses a year earlier, but had not acted on them. They asked the court to order the authorities to carry out their own orders. The lawyers also charged that most of Ofra had been built illegally, just as the nine houses had been. The settlement was allegedly started by settlers who came in the guise of workers based at an abandoned Jordanian army camp inside the Palestinian village of Ein Yabrud. Eventually they moved out of the army buildings and built their own homes without permits. According to Sfard, the land of the Jordanian camp may have been expropriated by the Jordanian government, but the land outside the camp, upon which Ofra was built, belonged to Ein Yabrud. In other legal developments involving Jewish construction in the West Bank, the High Court issued a unilateral interim injunction ordering an immediate halt to the construction of a permanent structure in the illegal settlement of El-Matan. According to the ruling, handed down by Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger, all "construction, connections to infrastructure, and paving of roads must stop and there must be no transactions involving the building or transfer of ownership until another decision is made." The petition was filed by attorneys representing Yesh Din on behalf of the village council heads of Dir Isti and Thulith against the construction of the permanent building, which is apparently intended to be a synagogue, built without permission on state land located near the two villages. Sfard wrote that construction was being carried out at a furious pace and had almost been completed after three months of work. Yesh Din also filed a petition on behalf of Palestinians from Ein Yabrud against the construction of a wastewater purification facility on their land. According to the petitioners, represented by Sfard, Zachary and Avisar Lev, the facility encompasses 37 dunams, including 4 dunams above ground level. It is meant to serve Ofra and possibly the nearby illegal outpost of Amona. The petitioners charged that the facility was built "in violation of the master plan and through the theft of private property." Furthermore, the government was deeply involved in the project, which cost NIS 7.8 million, much of which was funded by government authorities, the petitioners wrote. Danziger gave the state and the other respondents until June 1 to respond to the petition.