It has emerged that the officer commanding Central Command in the Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, signed an order appropriating a West Bank house just 10 days after a court ruled that it belonged to Palestinians. The house, which is near the settlement of Ofra and is currently being used as a yeshiva for married men, was appropriated for “security purposes."
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The house is on Road 60, the main north-south road in the West Bank. It was separated from the rest of the houses of the village of Yabroud in the 1990s, when a section of the road was paved to bypass the city of Ramallah. The bypass left the house on the east side of the road, near to the houses of Ofra.
The Shehadeh family continued living in the house, until settlers changed the locks in 2003, claiming that it had been purchased from its Palestinian owners by Al-Watan, a company controlled by the Amana settlement agency.
A yeshiva (kolel) for married men was opened in the house and the Machon Mishpatei Aretz, a Torah institute specializing in religion and economic issues, moved in. Al-Watan filed a request to register the house in its name, but the IDF’s Civil Administration rejected the request due to problems with the documentation.
In 2008, Al-Watan petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to register it as the owner of the land, claiming that five family members had presented a will to a notary and sold the land. The petition was rejected in July this year, after it emerged that Yitzhak Solomon, the notary, had been convicted in criminal court of stealing from his clients and his license had been revoked.
Al-Watan decided not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but it did not evacuate the house. Instead, their salvation came from a different direction.
On July 14, ten days after the District Court handed down its ruling, Alon signed his order seizing the land on which the house stands. A fence around the house that was erected by Ofra was destroyed on the orders of the High Court of Justice after a petition by the Yesh Din organization. The IDF then erected its own fence, including spotlights.
The practice of seizing land in the territories for military purposes was common until 1979, with a number of settlements established on such land. But the practice was stopped in the wake of a High Court of Justice decision concerning Elon Moreh.
In the Ofra case, Alon’s order allows the yeshiva to remain in place, despite the court’s ruling. The Shehadeh family has asked the IDF to cancel the order, but has yet to receive a response.
“The Shehadeh family won after 10 years of legal battles, but it is still unable to reach the ‘promised land,’" said attorney Muhammad Dahleh, who represents the family. “It is extremely hard to understand how the Shehadeh family home was not essential for security purposes between the years 2003 and 2013 (including at the peak of the Second Intifada,) during which the house was controlled by the settlers. The security requirement raised its head immediately after the court determined the settlers’ documents, through which they controlled the house, were forged and they had to leave,” he added.
Al-Watan is registered in the West Bank since, under Jordanian law, only a local company can buy land in the territory; Jordan ruled the West Bank from 1948 to 1967. Al-Watan was previously involved in another forged deal to buy land in the Migron settlement, but the case was closed because the police could not prove who forged what.
A company named Binyanei Bar Amana controls 80 percent of Al-Watan. Binyanei Bar Amana is a subsidiary of the Amana cooperative society, a settlement agency in the West Bank. The Mateh Binyamin Development Company, a subsidiary of the regional council, and a privately owned firm own the remaining 20 percent in Al-Watan.