High Court Orders State to Demolish 9 Homes in Ofra Settlement

Petition orginally filed by Palestinian landowners in 2008; government instructed to carry out demolition within two years.

Chaim Levinson

The High Court of Justice on Sunday ordered the state to demolish nine residential structures in the settlement of Ofra that were built on private Palestinian land without building permits.

The court was ruling on a petition filed by the landowners and the Yesh Din organization in 2008. The court at the time issued an interim injunction against occupying the buildings, but families moved in anyway, and a police complaint filed with the Judea and Samaria Police was not followed up.

The state argued that the buildings should not be demolished because the entire West Bank settlement of Ofra was built without permits and most of it is on private land, so the fate of these nine structures would be determined by the diplomatic process, along with the fate of the rest of the settlement. The hearings on the petition were completed in 2009, but then Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch retired without issuing her ruling on the matter.

Justices Asher Grunis (who himself recently retired), Miriam Naor (the new court president) and Isaac Amit took up the case, and have ordered that the structures be demolished within two years. “In this case, there is no dispute that even on those plots for which the petitioners are not claiming ownership, the construction was carried out illegally, if only because it was done without building permits and without a master plan being in force. That’s why stop-work orders and demolition orders were issued in the first place, and the respondents repeatedly declared that the construction wasn’t legal and they didn’t object to the interim order. As such, there is no reason to accept the arguments that the petition should be dismissed because the petitioners have no standing.”

Grunis also noted the settlers’ conduct in the matter led to the decision to destroy the buildings. “In addition to the important fact that at issue is private land, there are additional reasons, including the events that led to completing the buildings and their occupancy. As described above, completion of the buildings was done in violation of stop-work and demolition orders issued by the authorities. This behavior even led the Civil Administration to file a police complaint and the launching of a criminal probe. If that wasn’t enough, the structures’ occupancy and their connection to permanent infrastructure were apparently implemented after this petition was filed, during the short period in which the respondents were given to respond to the request for an interim injunction.”

Grunis added, “I do not underestimate the significance of a decision to implement orders that will result in the evacuation and destruction of buildings that serve as residences. It’s understood that the decision has difficult and painful ramifications for the residents and their families However, under the circumstances, this doesn’t justify effectively legalizing illegal construction on private land, or legalizing the lack of enforcement of the law by state authorities in a manner that is not consistent with their own stated policies.”

Naor added her own criticism of the state’s behavior in cases where demolitions have been ordered, saying, “By the end of the time stipulated, the demolition orders should be carried out with no attempts to postpone the inevitable, as is customary, unfortunately, in these types of cases.”