Occupants of the illegal outpost of Shvut Ami were evacuated seven times, and returned to resettle the site on each occasion.
However, the Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights group refused to surrender to the settler thugs that took over the stone house belonging to Palestinian Bdariyah Aamar. The group sent 15 letters to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the GOC Central Command, the deputy attorney general, Judea and Samaria District police offices and state prosecutors. In addition, scores of telephone calls were made from Attorney Michael Sefarad's office, the group's legal advisor.
In October, Aamar adhered to an Israel Defense Forces proposal to seal off the house. Under cover of dark, settlers broke into the house and resettled it. Yesh Din demanded authorities evacuate the outpost and start criminal procedures against the squatters, whose well-known identities were proudly displayed on the Internet.
Last week, Sefarad's office received a letter from the state prosecutor, informing him that 14 of the squatters will be indicted, of which eight will be charged with criminal trespassing.
It is in this light that Barak's decision to press criminal charges against settlers must be viewed. Had it not been for the determination of human rights activists, reaching out a helping hand to defenseless Palestinian civilians, Shvut Ami would have joined a list of over 100 other extant illegal outposts, most of which were also constructed on privately-owned land.
Following the Sasson report, a recent amendment has enabled authorities to file charges against settlers who do as they please and build without permits. But the main reason settlers were not charged was not for lack of ability, but for lack of will.
It begins with a dearth of inspectors, many of whom live in the settlements. State prosecutors are swamped with work. Finally, many judges sympathize more with the squatters than with their victims.
The test the defense minister now faces is whether he is determined enough to carry out the procedures and fulfill Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's promise to "change the construction policy in the settlements." In any case, Yesh Din has vowed to follow the issue closely.
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