An ominous house of contention
The purchase of an asset by Israelis in the heart of a Palestinian population is not only a controversial matter in Israel, but is also seen by the local population as a provocative act.
The house that was recently seized by the Hebron settlers is like a real outpost. The nickname that stuck to it immediately after it was hastily occupied, "beit hameriva" (the house of contention), indicates the dispute involved in its seizure. Whether it was acquired legally by the settlers is a question related to the laws of purchase, but it is not the only question that determines the legality of its seizure. No less important is the question of whether the defense minister approved the acquisition.
Because we should be aware of the following: Government decision no. 1077 from 1979 determined that the acquisition of lands by Israelis in the territories would be carried out subject to instructions determined by a ministerial committee. And in fact, a ministerial committee on security decided that acquiring land in cities or villages would be subject to approval by the defense minister.
In addition, a law regarding real estate transactions in Judea and Samaria (no. 1967-25) ruled that any real estate transaction required the approval of the head of the civil administration. This means that the acquisition of beit hameriva required the approval of the defense minister and the head of the civil administration as a condition for purchasing the house before it was populated.
The approval of the defense minister is not a technical matter. The acquisition of real estate in the territories has clear diplomatic and security aspects. As ruled by the High Court of Justice, since the area is not under Israeli sovereignty, international law applies to it.
The purchase of an asset by Israelis in the heart of a Palestinian population is not only a controversial matter in Israel, but is also seen by the local population as a provocative act, and this is liable to lead to violent opposition against the residents of the asset, the Jewish community and the settlements, as well as against soldiers deployed in the territories.
The asset populated by Israelis requires the Israel Defense Forces to deploy differently in the area, and to reinforce the manpower engaged in protecting the residents.
Moreover, any settlement in the territories, and certainly in the heart of a Palestinian population center, is liable to have a negative influence on Israel's status in the world.
These considerations explain why the instructions of the Israeli government regarding the approval of the defense minister, as a representative of the government, were decided on even though Israel's declared policy at the time was to increase the settlements in the territories.
As far as is known, no one is claiming that the defense minister and the head of the civil administration approved the purchase of the house. Since the required permit was not presented to the army, the Israel Defense Forces had an obligation to prevent the entry of the settlers before it took place.
Certainly the defense minister and the prime minister should have announced the intention of evicting the settlers at once, as soon as they became aware of the situation, and issued orders for their eviction and held a hearing without delay, without waiting for about 20 days before a political decision.
Now, after the settlers are already living in the house, even though Defense Minister Amir Peretz has ordered the IDF to evict them, it is not at all clear that such an eviction will be carried out soon, if at all.
The failure to take action immediately and firmly, or at least to make a clear and immediate political decision after the entry into the house, conveyed a clear message to the settlers: The decision regarding the settlement map in the territories, and to a considerable extent the decision on how the IDF will be deployed, is in the hands of those who take the law into their own hands and violate it, rather than in the hands of the Israeli government.
In light of all this, and in light of the potential for an outbreak of hostile acts in Hebron - with the danger to security which that could entail - the authorized bodies would do well if in the future they act to prevent entry into houses and seizure of them without a legal permit. Or they should at least take immediate steps after such events to signal to the settlers that the decision about the settlement map in the territories belongs to the Israeli government and no one else.
Attorney Sasson is the author of the report on the outposts that was submitted to the government about two years ago, at the request of then prime minister Ariel Sharon.