'You Have to Demolish Them While They're Small'

So Supreme Court President Asher Grunis said shortly before a partially built mosque in the West Bank was pulled down.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis should be pleased. A mosque under construction in the West Bank, whose demolition he supported, was pulled down last Tuesday - another performance by the Civil Administration bulldozer, underreported in the media. As in an increasing number of cases, the demolition was a result of pressure applied by Regavim - a nongovernmental organization whose goal is preserving lands of the (Jewish) nation.

On November 15, the High Court of Justice considered Regavim's demand to demolish the concrete building under construction, covering an area of 97 square meters in the small village of Al Mufaqara - which Israel is trying to wipe off the map, like its other Palestinian neighbors in the south Hebron Hills. In addition to Regavim's demand, the High Court justices also considered a request by Mahmoud Hamamda, a village resident, to freeze the demolition order and grant the building a construction permit. For about 400 Muslims in the area, there is no place of worship within a reasonable distance, said the petition submitted by Hamamda via the Society of St. Yves - Catholic Center for Human Rights. A few weeks ago, though not yet completed, the building began operating as a mosque.

And now we learn from the website Hakol Hayehudi ("The Jewish Voice," whose tagline is "News for Happy Jews" ) that Justice Grunis expressed his viewpoint in the courtroom in a paraphrase of a well-known, vulgar expression: "You have to demolish them while they're small." The website for happy Jews, which interpreted Grunis' comments as relating to the mosque, rejoiced. The State Prosecutor's Office promised that demolition was imminent, and Regavim and Hamamda's petitions became superfluous.

In its response to Haaretz, a spokesman for the court system clarified Grunis' comments: "These words do not reflect everything said by the president in the courtroom on this matter. His words were presented in a partial way that creates a distortion. We would therefore like to quote the words in full, as detailed below. The president did indeed say the words concerning the procedural question, but he later added that it refers to both sides. In other words, when it comes to petitions submitted in connection with illegal construction in the territories - whether by Jewish or by Palestinian groups - the demolition should be carried out before construction is completed."

There is no reason to doubt this statement and the fact that Grunis was referring not only to Palestinians. It's not his fault that nobody submitted a petition urging the authorities to demolish a synagogue under construction in the nearby illegal outpost of Avigail - a scion of the settlement of Ma'on, which is also illegal but nevertheless has authorization.

Oops, but wait. Surfing the Internet led me to an article by Yossi Algazi in Haaretz from 11 years ago, where he tells about the beginning of the Avigail outpost, created under military camouflage of some kind and with ongoing military protection. The article indicates that there was, in fact, a petition, by attorney Shlomo Lecker on behalf of two Palestinians who own the land. And this is what Algazi wrote:

"In his petition to the High Court, attorney Lecker claims that the construction of the outpost at the Avigail site is taking place before the closed eyes of the political leadership, and particularly Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer [Labor], who is not doing anything to prevent the invasion of Palestinian land by settlers, and is thereby encouraging them. 'In recent months, the Defense Ministry has adopted a new and unacceptable method,' accuses Lecker. 'The ministry allocates money to construct buildings and outposts, and instructs the Israel Defense Forces to protect those who are doing the work, and the settlers who are preparing the ground and setting up means for protecting and guarding it. The work on the ground is being done without valid permits ... in order not to leave official fingerprints on the settlement activities that Israel promised in the international arena not to carry out, and which include, among other things, the invasion of private land and construction without a permit.' In response, the spokesman for the Civil Administration claimed this week that the water tower at the Avigail site 'was built on state land within the jurisdiction of the settlement of Ma'on, while the container was installed for the benefit of the guards at the site."

Not too late to learn

Avigail is on the list of outposts that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised to disband. So what if he promised? The honorable justices read - without raising any questions - the present petition of Regavim, which complains that the mosque in Al Mufaqara and the other "illegal" Palestinian structures such as, heaven forfend, water cisterns and agricultural fences are located "in several locations around the settlement of Avigail and in a manner that could seriously interfere with the sense of security in the settlement, and in an attempt to 'surround' it on all sides."

No, we have no reason to doubt that Grunis was referring to all "illegal" construction work.

A judge who creates symmetry between those who rule by force and their subjects who are denied their rights, knowingly and deliberately sides with the powerful.

The High Court's instructions to evacuate the settlement of Migron momentarily diverted attention from the consistency with which the honorable justices fail to intervene to prevent the basic discrimination that characterizes Israeli domination of the Palestinians when it comes to planning and construction.

A year ago, the village council of Dirat Rafa'iya, also in south Hebron Hills, filed a courageous and innovative petition to the High Court, together with a coalition of organizations: Shomrei Mishpat - Rabbis for Human Rights, the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and the Society of St. Yves. They demand that authority for planning in Area C is restored to the Palestinians - authority that was revoked in military injunction 418 in 1971, and this was during the reign of the Alignment (Mapai and Mapam ) and the National Religious Party.

Is a justice who says, "You have to demolish them while they're small," and who fails to take into account the profound difference between prohibiting Palestinian construction and encouraging Jewish construction, speaking the same legal and values-based language in which the Dirat Rafa'iya petition was written? If not, it's not too late for him to learn it.

Supreme Court President Asher GrunisCredit: Alon Ron
Palestinian Muslims reading from the Koran during the holy month of Ramadan at a mosque in the West Bank city of Jenin on Aug. 29, 2010.Credit: AP

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