In Amona petition, Palestinians claim purchase document a forgery

42 families currently live on hilltop near Ofra settlement; High Court asks for information on earlier court cases regarding outpost.

Amona outpost 370 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff )
Amona outpost 370
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff )
Purchase documents authenticating the continued presence of Jewish families in the West Bank’s Amona outpost were forged, according to attorney Husam Yunis, who filed a petition against the settlers at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.
The petition, which pertained to two property lots, followed a similar one he had filed to the court in October regarding a third lot.
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday asked all parties concerned with the petition to provide it with a complete list of all petitions regarding the outpost that were now making their way through the lower courts. Residents of Amona and the nonprofit legal organization Yesh Din have also filed petitions in the Beit Hashalom Court in Tel Aviv.
At issue is the fate of the small community of 42 families who live on a hilltop on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement.
The community was first built in 1995 with NIS 2.176 million from the Construction and Housing Ministry on land the state had designated as private Palestinian property.
In 2008, Yesh Din, on behalf of the Palestinian landowners, petitioned the High Court against the outpost and asked that it be demolished. The court – in 2012 and in a series of previous rulings – has consistently backed the Palestinians and Yesh Din in stating that the homes must be taken down.
Amona families, however, have appealed, stating that they had since purchased the property on which 16 of the structures are located, from the Palestinian landowners.
In an obscurely worded ruling in July, the High Court said that the structures on those plots could remain, pending the adjudication of all claims before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. But it added that the structures against which there were no purchase claims must be removed.
The court did not, however, clarify how many of those 30 structures should be taken down.
The Amona families have since claimed that the moment the High Court agreed to allow those 16 structures to stay, the case had become about these structures and did not involve the remaining 30 structures, which they argued could now remain intact.
The Amona families have further argued that Yesh Din and its attorney Michael Sfard cannot petition against those structures because the identity of those lots’ registered owners is unknown and the owners are not parties to the petition.
In August, the High Court clarified that the case still involved the entire outpost and that it had intended for the 30 structures to be removed, but that it would hear an appeal of that ruling.
On Tuesday, it held a prolonged debate on the matter.
One of the central questions, said Hani Ofek, one of the attorneys representing the Amona families, was whether an absentee property owner had rights in this case.
The inclusion of those absentee property owners was unjust, Ofek said, because it robbed the Amona families of options they would have if the landowners were parties to the case or if their identities were known. In such instances, the Amona families could make attempts to purchase the property or to offer the landowner compensation, the attorney said.
In the instances where homes were built on private Palestinian property, the state must weigh diplomatic and security concerns against individual rights, Ofek continued, but if the property owner were absent and could not be found, that equation was irrelevant.
The Amona ruling would also have implications for homes in other communities in Judea and Samaria, Ofek said.
Attorney Yehuda Ressler added that if the ruling held, then anyone could submit an evacuation petition against a home, even if they had no association with the matter.
Therefore, he argued, the petition should be private.
He charged that it was politics and not concern for property rights that drove the petition, which he said had been filed by parties that wanted to harm the settlement movement.
After 15 years of living in Amona, the families there have rights that the court has not recognized, he said.
But later in the day, Yunis told The Jerusalem Post that the only relevant question was the purchase claim.
“Those documents were forged,” he charged.
The landowners insist “that they have not sold their property,” added Yunis, who has submitted documents to the magistrate’s court to back up that claim.