A petition against the expulsion of Palestinians from a military firing zone in the South Hebron Hills will not be heard by the High Court of Justice on Monday as scheduled, because the state did not respond in a timely manner.
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Supreme Court Vice President Miriam Naor slammed the State Attorney’s Office for this, writing Sunday that the state’s decision to respond this Friday, only three days before the hearing, would not leave the petitioners enough time to review the response. As a result, Naor canceled Monday’s hearing, and said it will only be rescheduled after the court’s summer recess.
Thus, Naor accepted the petitioners' claim that they needed more than three days to study the state's response. The petitioners are 250 area residents who are represented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and attorney Shlomo Lecker.
“I’m not comfortable with the timeframe under which the respondents are submitting their response in this process,” Naor wrote, at the start of her ruling. She insisted that the state still submit its response on Friday, as it had committed to do.
In October-November 1999, the Israel Defense Forces evicted some 700 Palestinians who lived in 12 small villages, an area of 30,000 dunams (7,500 acres), in the southern Hebron Hills that had been declared Firing Zone 918. The IDF also demolished many of the buildings and caves in which these families had lived for several generations. According to the military, these were illegal residences in a firing zone.
In response to petitions filed with the High Court of Justice by Lecker and ACRI at the time, the court issued an interim injunction under which the residents were to return to their homes until a final decision was made. After the injunction was extended 27 times, in July 2012 the prosecution stated that then Defense Minister Ehud Barak had decided that residents of four of the 12 villages could remain in the area. The part of the firing zone where these four villages are located is also the site of several unauthorized settler outposts.
The high court declared the petitions void, but the injunctions were not canceled. In January of this year, two new petitions were filed that asked the court to cancel the order declaring the area a closed firing zone, to prevent the forced expulsion of some 1,300 residents who live in the other eight villages and to allow some construction so they could live normal lives.
In its preliminary response on March 24, the prosecution asked to categorically reject the third measure (construction) and said it would respond to the other two issues in a “supplementary preliminary response” within 90 days. Left with no choice, the petitioners asked for the hearing to be postponed. Last week the state said it would submit its response this Friday, only three days before the rescheduled hearing.
In her statement on Sunday postponing the hearing once again, Naor wrote, “The respondents chose, of their own volition and without asking for more time, not to address the issues at hand…,” and continued to chastise the prosecution.
“At no point were the respondents given an additional extension for submitting their preliminary response, and they certainly were given permission to submit a ‘supplementary’ preliminary response. Under these circumstances, the respondents cannot claim that under [High Court of Justice regulations] they are ‘allowed’ to submit their response to two of the petitions main measures only three days before the hearing. It is also improper, under these circumstances, for the petitioners to get the respondents’ response three days before the hearing.”
But since these were the circumstances, she wrote, “there is no choice but to postpone the hearing. … However, since the respondents have said that they will submit their response three days before the hearing date, they are obligated to do so.”