Group petitions High Court against Ulpana demolitions

Civil rights group says houses should not be razed until District Court rules on civil land ownership case.

Apartments in Ulpana oupost in danger of being evacuated  (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Apartments in Ulpana oupost in danger of being evacuated
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
An NGO on Sunday petitioned the High Court of Justice to revoke its ruling mandating the demolition of five apartment buildings in the West Bank Ulpana outpost on the outskirts of Beit El by July 1.
In its petition, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel argued that the High Court’s decision last Monday to reject the state’s request to reopen the Ulpana case and cancel demolition orders was “disproportionate” because it did not take into account the Ulpana settlers’ land ownership rights.
“The justices’ ruling was made in error, because the state failed to present facts about the [settlers’] property rights,” Legal Forum attorney Yossi Fuchs said.
Last week, the High Court said that it would not accede to the state’s request to reopen the Ulpana case and cancel demolition orders, and said the state must evacuate and tear down the five stone apartment buildings in which 30 families live.
That decision came after the court already ruled last September that the state must demolish the structures after accepting a government pledge to demolish the buildings.
The Legal Forum’s petition argues the demolitions must be halted pending the outcome of a civil case in the Jerusalem District Court regarding the issue of who owns the Ulpana properties.
Settlers say the property was purchased legally from a Palestinian landowner by the yeshiva in Beit El and Amana, the construction arm of the settlement movement.
The settlers received stateguaranteed mortgages and grants to buy the land, but the sale was never registered with the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria.
The settlers opened that civil case in September, shortly before the High Court issued its final ruling on the case, and ordered the state to demolish the homes.
In the High Court petition, the Legal Forum claims that the court’s ruling harms the Ulpana settlers’ property rights, in violation of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and “the principle of natural justice.”
The petition also states that the court’s decision is “incompatible with the prime minister’s commitment to prevent the neighborhood’s destruction and to regulate its [legal] position.”
However, in last week’s High Court ruling, Supreme Court President Asher Dan Grunis said the state had failed to bring any legal precedent to support its request to reopen the Ulpana case, and had not brought any new facts, including about the land ownership.
Grunis said the state knew before the court’s September ruling on Ulpana that the settlers had commenced civil legal proceedings to clarify the land ownership issue.
The Legal Forum writes in its petition that the state actively assisted the Ulpana settlers in purchasing the properties. According to the statement, the settlers face expulsion despite claiming that neither received demolition orders nor heard whether the state will provide compensation to buy new apartments.
“These are people who purchased their homes in good faith over a decade ago, while receiving grants from the Construction and Housing Ministry, and who were recognized as having title by the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division,” said Legal Forum’s attorney Yossi Fuchs.
WZO’s Settlement Division, technically part of a non-governmental agency, has been contracted for decades to execute government- funded projects over the Green Line.
The petition names the division as a respondent, alongside the attorney-general, the prime minister, the defense minister, the IDF West Bank Commander, the Beit El local council and yeshiva, and even the Palestinians claiming ownership of the Ulpana land.
In the petition, the Legal Forum asks that the High Court justices visit Ulpana with the petition’s respondents.
“Only in this way can they see that this is an exceptional case and that these are exceptional circumstances,” the petition argues.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.