“Our Bibi has three houses, three houses does our Bibi have,” sang social protest demonstrators two years ago, paraphrasing a well-known children’s song in reference to his villa in Caesarea and two apartments in Jerusalem.
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No one is arguing that the Netanyahu family’s house in Caesarea obviates their right to live in Jerusalem or, conversely, that the Jerusalem apartments negate their Caesarea-ness. No lawyer would present a baseless claim stating that there is a conflict between Netanyahu’s rights of residence and the number of locations at which he owns real estate. However, according to state attorneys, a photo of a house or an address in the town of Yatta negates the right to continue living in a cave or a small tent in the small village of Al Markaz, in the southern part of the West Bank.
The absence of a Palestinian human right to have two domiciles will be one of the arguments to be presented to Supreme Court justices by state attorneys on Monday, in an attempt to uphold the destruction of eight villages south of Hebron: Mjaz, Taban, Spay, Fakhit, Hallawa, Al Markaz, Jinba and Kharuba. This point will be concealed behind the pretense that the main issue underlying the petition filed with the High Court of Justice is which came first, the human beings and their villages or an army firing range.
Aner Helman and Yitzhak Bart, two lawyers from the State Prosecutor’s Office, are signed on the response to the two petitions against the destruction of these villages and the expulsion of their residents - one by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the other by attorney Shlomo Lecker. They have produced aerial photographs, research and reports by the Civil Administration in the attempt to prove that the plaintiffs are not only a bunch of invaders into an area that was designated by the army as a firing range, but liars as well. Attorney Tamar Feldman from ACRI disputes the argument that the core issue of the petition revolves around the truth or falsity of the facts.
In a preliminary response to the state’s arguments that were presented to the court, Feldman wrote that “the crux of the issue is whether the respondents to the petition have the authority to expel the plaintiffs and their families from their homes, and if so, whether implementation of this authority is reasonable under the circumstances.” Nevertheless, it is fascinating to read how Feldman uses the very material brought by the state to demonstrate that the truth is exactly the opposite of what the state claims, and that in fact these shepherd-farmer villages preceded the firing range by dozens of years. The presence there of these inhabitants was not seasonal, as argued by the state.
No addresses in unrecognized villages
With reference to Netanyahu’s three houses again, Helman and Bart wrote in their response to the petition that “the respondents have investigated 80 out of 252 plaintiffs, showing that for many of them there exists positive proof which denies their claims that they reside in the area on a permanent basis. Ten of the plaintiffs have stated in the past that they are not permanent residents, 25 of them have permanent residence in the nearby town of Yatta, and 30 plaintiffs are first-degree relatives of petitioners who own houses in Yatta. In addition, the listed residence for all plaintiffs is in Yatta.”
Helman and Bart do even better: “The Civil Administration has photos of plaintiff No. 6 standing next to his house in Yatta. Plaintiff No. 71 is the son of plaintiff No. 39. The Civil Administration has a photo of the plaintiff’s father’s house in Yatta, meaning that the permanent residence of the plaintiffs is not within the boundaries of the firing range, but in the village of Yatta.”
Citing these photos as incriminating evidence, Feldman wrote: “If the undersigned were to apply for Polish citizenship based on a photo of her grandfather beside his house in Radom, most likely she would fail. If the undersigned’s intern would apply to the Tel Aviv municipality for a resident’s parking permit based on a photo of her sister standing in front of an apartment she owns in the city, it is likely that she would fail in her endeavor as well.” Referring to the Yatta addresses, she writes: “These villages are not officially recognized, making it impossible to register them as the plaintiff’s address at the Population Registry [controlled by Israel, A.H.]. In this case, the registration of an address cannot serve as an indication of the plaintiffs’ domicile. The plaintiffs do not deny that some of them own houses in Yatta as well, but this does not prove that they live there.”
Incidentally, the “village” of Yatta, cited by Helman and Bart, is a town with more than 100,000 Palestinian residents. Using the term “village” is deliberate. It is designed to give the impression that the inhabitants of the villages slated for destruction will be able to continue carrying out their custom of part-time farming and part-time tending to flocks without any problems, housing their herds besides their supposedly permanent residences in the large town of Yatta.
Regardless of the number of plaintiffs whose grandfathers or grandsons have houses in Yatta, when it comes to Israel’s legal tradition, the term “permanent” has become in the state attorneys’ language a code name for expelling Palestinians from their homes, be it from Jerusalem to the West Bank, from Jerusalem to overseas, from Bedouin camps to the Negev town of Rahat, from Area C (West Bank areas under full Israeli control) to Area “Y” (for Yatta). The upcoming court session is but one more clinical episode in the ongoing conflict between the expulsion disease Israel suffers from and the attempts to cure it.