Ulpana: A view from the hills

It’s time for our court members to stop injecting their personal feelings and beliefs into their rulings.

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)
Looking out to the West atop Beit El’s old water tower, which has been converted into a scenic lookout point for residents, visitors and tourists, you clearly see the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Ramallah, just several kilometers away. Ramallah is in the midst of a building surge, with nearly completed skyscraper apartments dotting the landscape. Throughout the city you can see construction cranes in motion transforming this once war-torn urban area into a thriving metropolis.
Just to the north of the water tower (on which is painted a massive Israeli flag – clearly a sign of the Beit El residents’ proud Zionistic and patriotic sentiment), only several meters away is a neighborhood of 14 nearly identical multi-family apartment buildings home to over 80 Jewish families, known as Givat Ha’ulpana.
It is impossible not to recognize the fact that the Ulpana buildings, some of the largest structures in the entire community of Beit El, were built with permanent Jerusalem stone and red roofs, and are located well within town limits. In other words, nothing about Ulpana resembles an isolated so-called caravan “outpost.”
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has ordered the state to demolish the upper five buildings of Ulpana, home to 30 families, by May 1, since according to the court they were constructed illegally on private Palestinian land.
Despite the ruling, a government ministerial committee established to explore the matter is asking the Supreme Court to push off the demolition in order to examine the claims of ownership in depth and to come up with a solution.
It seems that recently this has been a trend. Whether it’s Migron, a house purchased for Jewish families in Hebron, or in this case Ulpana, while Ramallah and other Arab communities in Judea and Samaria are flourishing, every Jewish real-estate transaction is placed under a microscope. If that is the reality, then our own Supreme Court is sadly guilty of discrimination against Jewish homeowners/ property owners based on their religion or nationality.
Documentary filmmaker, journalist and Ulpana resident Alex Traiman, who lives in one of the buildings slated for demolition with his wife and three children, is dumbfounded that despite the many threats and challenges Israel is facing – especially the Iranian nuclear threat, “the Supreme Court’s top priority is the knocking down of five buildings in a Jewish community which is home to 6,000 residents.” Traiman feels that the true motivation behind the ruling is the Supreme Court’s “ideological drive [assisted by the media] to create a Palestinian state at any cost while negating logic.”
According to Traiman, who has lived in Ulpana for nearly six years, all 14 buildings in the neighborhood were built on land purchased legally from private Arabs nearly 15 years ago, with the backing of the Civil Administration and the government.
He says that the only real difference between the five buildings in question and the other nine, which everyone agrees are legal, is simply “administrative,” since the transaction was made separately with the land purchased from a different Arab owner.
Traiman is adamant that the court is questioning the authenticity of the purchase documents in order to “punish the residents of Beit El, and chip away at the ‘settlement enterprise’ apartment by apartment, and family by family.”
He says that the court first questioned the legality of the buildings in 2007, thanks to efforts by the NGOs Yesh Din and Peace Now, which went out of their way to track down a cousin of the owner and convince him he had a claim on the land.
Traiman says that Yesh Din went so far as to cover the cousin’s legal fees when the issue was brought before a PA court.
Since according to the PA selling land to a Jew is punishable by death, according to Traiman it was much easier for the court to side with the cousin and literally avoid a bloody mess. The PA court then brought the issue before Israel’s Supreme Court, who backed the cousin’s claim despite not being able to present legitimate proof of ownership.
Adding to Traiman’s theory – that the Supreme Court is acting out of its own ideological stance, is the fact that the community of Beit El is currently in the midst of a court case against the “cousin” in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court attempting to prove true ownership over the land. Unless the government can somehow convince the Supreme Court to put a hold on its demolition order, at this point the court is unwilling to wait on that extremely pertinent ruling.
But there is some room for optimism.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who ultimately has the authority to decide Ulpana’s fate one way or another, seems to be falling in line with the government’s stance that more time is needed to study the matter.
And while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu only decided to speak up at the last minute as the fate of the homes is hanging in the balance, it appears that he also wants to avoid demolition.
What seems to be clear is that the residents of Ulpana are pawns on the front lines of a battle of political ideology.
It’s time for our court members to stop injecting their personal feelings and beliefs into their rulings as a means of setting an example – especially when it comes to decisions involving possibly throwing Jewish families out of their homes.
The writer is a media expert, writer, and the host of Reality Bytes Radio on www.israelnationalradio.com. He is the former foreign press spokesperson for the Yesha Council.