Court: IDF Cannot Sue Settler for Uprooting His Illegal Vineyard

IDF barred Moshe Deutsch from plot, then demanded compensation for carrying out court demolition order.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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A reservist guarding Livni’s vineyard near Hebron in 2008.
A reservist guarding Livni’s vineyard near Hebron in 2008.Credit: Archive / Emil Salman
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court has turned down a civil lawsuit that the state filed against a West Bank settler seeking compensation for expenses the Israel Defense Forces incurred for clearing vineyards on land that the settler planted but did not own. In a twist in the case, the court declined to order compensation because the army had also ordered the settler not to set foot on the land, thereby also depriving him of the access that he needed to clear it.

The suit was filed against Moshe Deutsch, a farmer from the settlement of Sussia who has a history of trespassing on Palestinian-owned land. In 2012, the IDF’s Civil Administration issued an order barring him from making further use of the plot on which he had planted grape vines and barring him from the site. When Deutsch failed to removed the vineyard, the IDF demolished it on its own.

In January 2013 the state filed suit, seeking 57,000 shekels ($14,500) in compensation for the cost of clearing away the vineyard. The government’s lawsuit is part of a strategy that the state prosecutor’s office has been pursuing to file civil suits over similar violations, but the effort has been highly selective. In contrast, for example, Rabbi Zalman Melamed of the West Bank settlement of Beit El has arranged compensation of tens of millions of shekels in connection with the evacuation of homes in the settlement built on Palestinian-owned land. In other instances, however, suits have been filed for construction on such land.

In the lawsuit against Deutsch, his lawyer, Doron Nir-Tzvi, argued that at the same time that his client was being ordered to uproot what he had planted, the head of the IDF’s Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon had issued an order declaring the site of the vineyard a closed military zone and barring Deutsch from entering the premises. In response, a representative of the Civil Administration told the court that Deutsch should have asked for permission to enter the land for the purposed of uprooting the vines.

In his decision, Magistrate’s Court Judge Gad Ehrenberg noted what he said was strange conduct on the army’s part. “Deutsch didn’t have to initiate a situation on his own that would have allowed him to carry out the order [to clear away the vineyards]. The state cannot claim damages for failure to carry out an order when it itself was [the party] preventing Deutsch from carrying it out,” the judge stated. “In an additional point, even if not the most important, it should be remembered that the defendant [Deutsch] was not warned at any stage that if he did not carry out the evacuation himself, the state would have to do it instead and would charge him for the expense.”

The judge ordered the state to pay 10,000 shekels in court costs.

By press time, the IDF Spokesman’s Office had failed to respond.

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