At the state’s request, the High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction on Thursday delaying the demolition of 24 unfinished apartments built without a permit in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, three days before they were meant to be razed.
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The buildings were originally slated for demolition no later than this Sunday. Now, it’s not clear when or even if the demolition will happen, since the court’s injunction didn’t specify a new deadline.
The apartments are located in two buildings built on Palestinian land that was initially expropriated for military purposes. Construction began in 2010, but was halted by a petition to the High Court filed by the landowner and the Yesh Din human rights organization. In response to the petition, the state initially promised to raze the buildings within a year, but then, under pressure from settlers, backtracked and said it intended to legalize the buildings.
Last September, however, the court ruled in a 2-1 decision that the buildings must be demolished within six months, meaning by this coming Sunday. Justices Asher Grunis and Edna Arbel, with Miriam Naor dissenting, said the state had promised to carry out the demolitions, and fulfillment of that promise shouldn’t be deferred until the end of a planning process aimed at retroactively legalizing the buildings.
Yet despite this ruling, the state continued helping the contractor legalize the buildings and even issued construction permits for the completed foundations. Last month, Beit El’s planning committee approved construction of 24 apartments on the site.
With that approval in hand, contractor Meir Dreinoff last week petitioned the High Court to ask that the demolition be postponed so he could complete the process of obtaining the requisite permits. The state backed this request, despite the court’s earlier ruling that the demolition should be carried out regardless of where the legalization process stood.
“The majority’s opinion didn’t preclude the possibility of advancing the planning process,” government attorney Hani Ofek wrote in her brief. “The significant progress in the planning constitutes a change in the circumstances, compared to the situation at the time the ruling was issued. Therefore, we agree that the buildings should be left in place at this time.”
Attorney Shlomy Zachary, representing Yesh Din, opposed the request. “Should someone who systematically acted like a law unto himself for commercial and economic reasons, not to say avarice, justify acceding to a request not to carry out a judicial ruling?” he demanded. He also deemed the state’s support for Dreinoff’s petition “unacceptable,” terming it an attempt “to overturn a court ruling with a stroke of the pen.”
Nevertheless, Justice Uri Shoham agreed to issue an injunction delaying the demolition until a three-justice panel can hear Dreinoff’s petition. He added that this hearing should be held as soon as possible.