Court: Evacuate 'illegal' Migron outpost by end of March

"No justification for preserving illegal situation, continued violation of Palestinian property rights," in W. Bank outpost, Justices rule.

man walks by protest signs in Migron_311 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
man walks by protest signs in Migron_311
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
In a first of its kind ruling, the High Court of Justice ordered the state on Tuesday to evacuate the Migron outpost by the end of March.
“This is the first time the court has issued a final and binding judgment, indicating a deadline for the evacuation of an outpost, so this is a precedent,” said lawyer Michael Sfard who had filed the petition against the outpost on behalf of Peace Now.
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“We did have promises by the government with deadlines that they did not live up to, but we have never had a court decision that is final and binding,” he said.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) pledged to use the next eight months to battle on behalf of Migron through every possible legal means to ensure that the hilltop community “would not fall.”
The ruling, issued unanimously by justices Dorit Beinisch, Miriam Naor and Salim Joubran stated the West Bank outpost was built illegally without government permission on private land owned by Palestinians.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the three justices slammed the state for failing to draw up a reasonable schedule for evacuating Migron to the nearby settlement of Geva Binyamin (Adam) as it had promised to do, despite repeated court hearings to discuss the matter and repeated requests by the state to be granted extensions to implement the plan.
The outpost, located in the Binyamin region of the West Bank, 5 km. north of Jerusalem, was first constructed over a decade ago, with NIS 4.3 million from the Ministry of Construction and Housing, but without the proper authorization.
Peace Now first petitioned the High Court to evacuate Migron in 2006, on behalf of Palestinians who own the land Migron is built on.
Settlers have claimed the property is abandoned, and in addition, they have purchased some of the lots from Palestinians.
The state has never accepted this argument, and on Tuesday the justices upheld the state’s position with regard to the land’s status.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the justices remarked the High Court had acceded to repeated requests by the state to be allowed additional time to deal with the outpost, in order to “allow dialogue and come to a mutual agreement over a solution.”
The justices noted a total of five hearings had been held, in which various plans were discussed regarding the evacuation of the West Bank outpost, which the state does not dispute is illegal.
In 2008, the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip struck a deal with the government, in which it promised that Migron would be voluntarily removed to the nearby settlement of Adam within two years.
However, in July’s hearing the High Court learned that plans to evacuate Migron residents to Adam were not progressing at a reasonable pace, and that the chances of that plan being a success are still in doubt, not least because Migron residents themselves had not agreed to relocate.
In Tuesday’s ruling the justices noted the state had not negotiated directly with Migron residents to gain approval for the plan, but had done so through the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
They said Migron residents had not expressed their agreement to the plan to move them to Adam.
“The residents of Migron have so far refrained from responding or presenting themselves for a hearing before us and have also refrained from making any statement that transferring them to the new neighborhood in Adam is acceptable to them – and the state has not asked them to make such a statement,” wrote the justices.
The fact that three years had passed without agreement since the plan was originally raised “indicates that it will not come to fruition in the foreseeable future,” the justices added.
With the Adam relocation plan in doubt even three years after it was first suggested, the justices wrote, “there is no justification to preserve the illegal situation and to continue to violate Palestinian residents’ property rights.”
The justices conceded there are difficulties in evacuating Migron, especially without force, but sharply criticized the state for allowing the outpost to have been built, and later expanded.
“We do not ignore the difficulties that arise when evacuating an outpost in the region, let alone a large outpost that has been in place for a long time. These difficulties are growing as time goes on, and [the state’s] desire to evacuate the outpost without force are understandable,” wrote the justices.
“However, these difficulties would have been spared or greatly reduced had the state carried out effective enforcement procedures and prevented the outpost being built and expanded.”
By permitting the state to have until the end of March to evacuate Migron, the justices wrote there should be “sufficient time to prepare the necessary evacuation procedures.”
The justices also expressed hope that Migron residents would accept the ruling and allow themselves to be evacuated without the use of force.
“We can only wish that the residents of the outpost will come to their senses and agree to accept their duty not to appear as lawbreakers, and that they will settle any other site that the state deems fit to allow them,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Beinisch.
Sfard welcomed the ruling but told The Jerusalem Post that he was not happy that the case had dragged on for so long.
“It is very sad that in the Israel of 2011 there is a need to engage in long and tedious litigation to coerce the state to protect houses and land from Israeli trespassers,” Sfard said. “For me, as an Israeli it is particularly painful that my government is planning to provide the residents of Migron with luxurious houses in a nearby settlement, while tens of thousands of hardworking Israelis are protesting in tent camps for the right to decent housing.”
Sfard added that it is unlikely the houses in Adam will be ready in time for the March 2012 deadline for evacuating the settlement.
“In that case, the government will need to find a different solution, just like they did in the Disengagement,” he noted.