A short primer on the Migron outpost
What's all the fuss about the tiny West Bank settler's outpost called Migron? Here's a short list of answers to some commonly asked questions about the issue.
Q: What's the story with the eviction from Migron?
A: Migron is a settlement outpost that was established near the main highway in the West Bank in 2001, just north of Ramallah. Nearly 50 Israeli families live in the outpost today. All the land upon which the outpost was built belongs to Palestinians.
All the homes in the community were built without proper building permits. As a result of a court petition filed by the Palestinian landowners and the left-wing NGO Peace Now to the High Court, in 2011 the court's judges instructed the government to uproot the settlement. Despite that fact, the demolition date has been delayed again and again.
Q: If construction of the entire outpost was built on private land and demolition orders have already been issued, why hasn't the government carried it out? Why does the High Court of Justice continue to need to be involved?
A: Over the years, several thousand demolition orders have been issued for homes in settlements and outposts. The orders are issued by Israel's Civil Administration, an IDF body that is responsible, among other things, for enforcing the planning and building regulations in the West Bank. Along with this, the Israeli government has prevented the actual implementation of these orders due to political considerations.
The High Court petition that was filed by Peace Now in 2006 asserted that it is the government's responsibility to enforce demolition orders that it has issued. The state always responds that it intends to enforce these orders – the only question is when.
Q: The petition by the Palestinian landowners and Peace Now was originally filed in 2006 and the ruling was only issued in 2011. What took so long?
A: The government asked for some time before the demolition in order to find alternate housing for the residents that would be evicted from Migron. But preparing the replacement homes took a long time, and eventually the judges got fed up and decided not to wait any longer.
Q: Why specifically Migron? Aren't there dozens of illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank?
A: The Israeli government undertook a multi-year survey of the different types of settlement outposts in order to determine the order in which to demolish them. At the top of the list are new outposts still under construction. Immediately following them are outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land, like Migron. Migron and Amona, another West Bank outpost, are the largest settlement outposts in this second group, and as such, they stand right in the eye of the storm of public debate on the issue.
Q: Migron residents say the government encouraged them to settle there, and even financed the construction of public infrastructure for the current site. Consequently, they claim, it is impossible for the government to say that they are there illegally.
A: Over the years, different government bodies have financed illegal building in the outposts. They have also bankrolled larger, legally established settlements. In Migron, the government invested millions of shekels in building sewage infrastructure and a highway that reaches the settlement. The chief architect of Israel's Construction and Housing Ministry prepared a site plan for 500 residential units in the outpost. The state's attorney's office has declared that the government officials who did this are criminals, just like a policeman who abuses his power and uses unnecessary force would be. In fact, there was a past police investigation into the financing of Migron's public infrastructure, which was eventually closed for lack of evidence.
Q: Migron's residents continue to claim that Migron was built not on private Palestinian land, but on abandoned property. Are they right?
A: Migron is an area of the West Bank that that underwent formal property title registration so the state has records of the legal owner for every dunam on the site. Consequently, the conduct of Migron's residents in staking their claim to the land is extremely strange. On the one hand, they claim that the land on which the homes are built had no previous owners. One the other hand, during the last six years, they have claimed twice that they legally purchased the lands on which the outpost is build – from its Palestinian owners.
Q: But if they bought the land, what's the problem?
A: The first property purchase transaction involving the settlers was presented in 2007. However, a police investigation has established that the purchase document was most likely a forgery. In July of this year, the settlers presented the court with additional documents that attest yet again to their purchase of part of the land upon which Migron is built. Following a complaint filed with police, an investigation is still underway to determine whether these property transaction agreements were also forged.
Another claim made by settlers is that their outpost was built on rocky terrain and no Palestinians had ever worked the land, meaning that the settlers' presence didn't have any sort of negative effect on their Palestinian neighbors.
This point is consistently repeated by spokespeople representing the settlers, but it is entirely inaccurate. The State of Israel has in its possession aerial photos taken every year in order to track building code violations. In the '90s, these photos show that part of the area upon which Migron was built being cultivated by Palestinian farmers.
Q: Migron's residents claim that if the land the outpost is built upon was privately owned, then, in any event, the land is custodial property. What is custodial property?
A: In 1967, after the Six-Day War, many Palestinians fled as refugees to Jordan and did not subsequently return to the West Bank. The State of Israel recognizes these refugees' legal ownership of land in the West Bank. However, because these refugees are absentee landowners, the state manages their land on their behalf as a custodian. According to law, it is permissible for non-owners to utilize custodial property for temporary uses such as planting trees intended for agricultural use, but never for residential purposes. Consequently, this legal distinction doesn't provide any succor to the settlers' legal claims.
Q: Another claim voiced by settlers is that until Peace Now's petition to the High Court in 2006, Migron's residents lived in tranquility, such that the real issue here is a political struggle, not simply law enforcement.
A: Even this claim isn't entirely precise. In December 2003, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the evacuation of Migron, following a legal opinion which determined that the outpost was an incursion onto Palestinian-owned land. The army prepared an operational plan for the evacuation called Operation Exposed Hill. Following the announcement of the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, all plans to evacuate West Bank outposts were postponed and Migron wasn't demolished at that time.
Q: If it's clear that Migron's residents are located on illegally settled land, why do government ministers and Knesset members support them?
A: Some of these politicians support Migron's residents for political reasons, in the hope that their support will garner right-wing votes.
Q: Why don't Migron residents just move to the residential site prepared for them by the government only several hundred meters from their current location?
A: Like with many things that turn into question of principle, it is difficult to get people to act rationally on this issue. Even politicians who support Migron's residents have asked this very question. In any event, the settlers are supposed to move within days. Whether they do so voluntarily or by force remains to be seen.