'State caves to political pressure on illegal construction'

Peace Now says state attorney's office objected to interim injunction to stop Kiryat Netafim construction because of politicians.

maaleh adumim 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
maaleh adumim 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Peace Now charged on Wednesday that pressure exerted on the State Attorney's Office by politicians, including Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, had caused it to suddenly change its approach to illegal construction by Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The organization was referring to the state's reply to a petition it filed regarding the illegal construction of 15 permanent houses in the settlement of Kiryat Netafim, west of Ariel. Peace Now charged that the buildings were constructed without permits on land partly owned by the state and partly owned by Palestinians. It called on the High Court of Justice to order the state to halt the illegal construction and destroy the houses. In the meantime, it asked the court to issue an interim injunction to stop all construction while the petition was being heard and to prevent settlers from moving into the buildings. The state objected to the petitioner's request for an interim injunction even though it informed the High Court that the construction was illegal. In its response, it said that planning supervision and enforcement procedures had been initiated by the Civil Administration against 14 of the 15 houses and that the matter would be discussed soon at a meting of the subcommittee on supervision of the Supreme Planning Council. Since the authorities were taking action regarding the illegal construction, there was no need for the court to issue an interim injunction, the state argued. The director-general of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, wrote to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz saying he was shocked not only that the state had opposed an interim injunction but that it had also not committed itself to issuing orders to stop construction and demolish the buildings, even though it admitted they were illegal. "In similar circumstances in the past, when High Court petitions were filed against illegal construction in the West Bank, the State Attorney's Office did not hesitate to determine that illegal construction necessitated the issuing of stop-work orders and, at the same time, the issuing of an interim injunction by the court." Oppenheimer blamed the change in the State Attorney's position on political pressure. "We take a grave view of any attempt by the political echelon, senior as it may be, to influence the policy of the rule of law in Israel and force law enforcement bodies, including the State Attorney's Office, to change their position in accordance with political ideology," he wrote. Meanwhile, the state on Wednesday also opposed a request by the head of the village council of Kfar Akeb, Ali Barkat, and the Yesh Din organization for an interim injunction regarding the illegal construction of 12 homes, and earth preparations for more housing, by Jewish settlers north of the settlement of Kochav Ya'acov, on land which the petitioners maintain is privately owned by Palestinians. The petitioners asked the court to order the state to prevent the settlers from continuing to build and to demolish the illegal housing. They also asked for an interim injunction to be in force until the court gave a final ruling on the petition. Once again, the state acknowledged that the construction was illegal and said it had issued stop-work orders and that it would consider the possibility of issuing demolition orders. Furthermore, it had also declared the area of the construction a closed military zone. Despite the order, Jewish families are living in all 12 houses. The state added that there was no reason for the court to issue an interim injunction since it was already taking action against the alleged lawbreakers. The State Attorney's new policy was evident not only in it objection to the requests for interim injunctions in both petitions, but also by the fact that for the first time since petitions have been filed against illegal construction, particularly on land allegedly belonging to Palestinians, the state did not mention who owned the land.