Demolishing houses in Netiv HaAvot: Some are More Equal Than Others…

National law enforcement priorities should be implemented fairly and without bias.

Jerusalem demonstration outside the PMO's office, against the demolition of 15 homes in the Netiv Haavot. (photo credit: CAMPAIGN TO SAVE NETIV HAAVOT.)
Jerusalem demonstration outside the PMO's office, against the demolition of 15 homes in the Netiv Haavot.
The houses of Netiv HaAvot in Gush Etzion are scheduled to be demolished on Tuesday.
Israel's highest court left no room for equivocation, even when the State requested that demolition orders be set aside long enough for the small strips of land, some no wider than 40 centimeters, to be properly registered.
In Supreme Court Docket 7292/14, Justices Naor, Hayut and Fogelman stated: "Demolition orders should be enforced for these structures…It should be clear that the law applies to everyone."
This is a resounding statement of the primacy of law that has been the hallmark of the Israeli justice system. These words, and others like them, are the reason Palestinians and the Israeli human rights groups who represent them have taken their battle to Israel's Supreme Court time and time again: Israel's High Court is internationally recognized as a bastion of justice, offering recourse that stands above the political fray.
The question is, to what extent do the Court's decisions actually bear out this image of impartiality and equal treatment? Whose rights does the Israeli Supreme Court champion, and whose does it disregard?
In Supreme Court Docket 3142/15, in the matter of structures built on land privately owned by Asher Dov Orenstein, Aryeh Goloventsis and Avraham Goloventsis in the Negev, Justices Naor, Zilbertal and Mazuz had a totally different idea of the absolute nature of equal treatment before the law:
"With all due respect, it is unreasonable to turn the piece of land in question into the central issue in these people's lives," they concluded.
The scope of the illegal construction in Bir Hadaj, on land owned by Jews in southern Israel, and the brazen disregard of the law that is a matter of everyday life in Bir Hadaj, go far beyond anything in Netiv HaAvot. The Negev case involves some 1900 dunams (470 acres) of land that are, without any doubt, owned privately by Jews, who hold legal documentation of ownership. The rights of the owners are undeniable; in fact, the court does not deny them. It simply states in its decision that the rights of these Jewish property owners are unimportant in the larger scale of things. "It is clear that the resolution of this problem will not be found in individual cases of enforcement." Ownership rights, which lie at the very heart of any legal system, are simply set aside. The Supreme Court has bigger fish to fry, and is willing to sacrifice the rights of Jewish landowners in the State of Israel in order to fry them.
The residents of Netiv HaAvot, like the residents of many other Jewish communities, built their homes on "survey land;" no one had claimed private ownership, but the State had not yet completed the survey and registration of land in the area. Only when the survey was conducted by the "Blue Line Team," years after the homes were built and the families had moved in, some small fractions of these homes found themselves outside the municipal lines. In almost all cases, no previous owners were involved, no claims were made that anyone's rights had been infringed upon. The State of Israel understood that procedural issues had turned the lives of the residents of Netiv HaAvot upside down, and informed the Court that it would exercise its authority to properly register the strips of land that had been placed outside the newly-drawn lines – but the Court refused to allow the State the necessary time to complete the process.
What is the difference, we might well ask, between Netiv HaAvot and Bir Hadaj? In both cases, the core of the matter is the question of privately owned land and the State's law enforcement priorities: The Supreme Court's decisions have established law enforcement against structures built on privately-owned land as a priority for sorting out Israel's chaotic reality on the ground. This being so, the Supreme Court should – in fact, it must -  enforce this priority equally and universally throughout Israel. Why, then, in the Negev – where owners' undisputed rights are being trampled – does the Court prefer to look at the larger picture, while in Netiv HaAvot, where the land is for all intents and purposes ownerless, the Supreme Court insists on the most draconian enforcement of the letter of the law? Why does the decision on Bir Hadaj dismiss the rights of the land's owners in favor of the "rights" of those who have illegally built homes on the land, but in the case of Netiv HaAvot the Supreme Court demands the demolition of homes built on land for which no other ownership has been established?
If the law is the only criteria, there should be no difference at all between these cases. National law enforcement priorities should be implemented fairly and without bias. "The law," as the Supreme Court justices stated in the case of Netiv HaAvot, "applies to everyone."
Unless, of course, one case involves Jewish landowners whose rights are being trampled. If Bedouin squatters take your land and build a new settlement on it – don't ask Israel's Supreme Court for help. It's your problem. The Supreme Court is too busy issuing demolition orders for homes built (by Jews) on ownerless land.
We all deserve equal protection of our rights – but some of us are simply more equal than others.
Naomi Linder Kahn is Director of the International Division of Regavim, a research-based NGO dedicated to protecting Israel's resources and preserving Israeli sovereignty through equal application and enforcement of the law.