IDF Judge: Troops Must Halt Unlicensed Settlement Construction

Soldiers, police are required to see permits and stop work if they're not produced.

An Israeli military court has ruled that soldiers and police officers assigned to guard construction sites at West Bank settlements must ask to see building permits for the work, and to stop work at the site if valid licenses are not forthcoming.

Maj. Amir Dahan, a judge in the Ofer Military Court, on Tuesday published a decision in a criminal case in which he focused on the Civil Administration's approval of construction of a road last year from the village of Dir Qadis to the settlement of Nili. The judge criticized the head of the administration's infrastructure department at the time, Col. Zvika Cohen, for bypassing zoning oversight for the project by declaring the road a "combat access road."

Dahan wrote that this definition refers to roads whose purpose is to mark and defend against incursions onto state land, which he called "important and essential aims" that "do not justify violating the law that the state itself adopted and passed," adding that it was neither argued nor proved that the road was necessary to prevent a new incursion. "If building the road is not intended to prevent an ill greater than its unplanned construction, then it cannot be called a "combat road," Dahan wrote. "Combat is combat and its name must not be uttered in vain."

The ruling was part of Dahan's decision last week to acquit a Na'alin man who was arrested at a demonstration in June 2011 against the unauthorized construction, which took place near Na'alin. Mohammed Amira was charged with incitement and obstruction of a soldier after he was arrested while sitting in the bucket of a backhoe. He was jailed for five days before being released.

Regarding the conduct of the troops who were dispatched to the demonstration against the road, Dahan wrote, "The commanders in the field who are carrying out law-enforcement duties must ask [to see] the construction permit prior to protecting the conduct of the work. This permit is regularly issued by the authorities and kept onsite or at an accessible location. If no such permit existed the police officers should have stopped the construction activity themselves." (Boldface in original )

Continuing, the judge wrote that in the case of a building being constructed on the seashore - which is state property - clearly the police would not take it upon themselves to enable the work to continue by dispersing a nonviolent protest against the construction. "Just the opposite," Dahan wrote, "the appropriate way to end a hypothetical event of this type is to stop the construction until a building permit is issued.

"Under the circumstances," the judge wrote, Amira behaved "in a calm and less objectionable manner than the others at the scene." Dahan added: "I was not convinced that he acted in a manner likely to disturb the peace," especially since those in charge of the road construction denied Amira his legal right to oppose it in writing.

The Spokesman's Unit of the Israel Defense Forces said in a response that the issue is "under review."

Nir Kafri