The High Court of Justice has decided to allow the Civil Administration to demolish structures adjacent to an illegally built structure in villages inside Israel Defense Forces Firing Zone 918 in the West Bank. The High Court will also allow Civil Administration inspectors to determine what comes under the category of “adjacent” in this regard. Residents of these villages and their attorney, Shlomo Lecker, worry that some inspectors – whom they believe are also settlers – will take advantage of the situation to authorize the immediate and extensive demolition of residential and public structures.
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On January 11, the High Court instructed the state to prepare a military training plan that would cause minimal disturbance to residents of eight villages in the southern Hebron Hills area that in 1980 was declared a military firing zone. On the same day, as two petitions were being heard against the forced evacuation of the residents, another petition was also heard to freeze 31 demolition orders for an array of structures, including residential structures, several tents, openings for water wells, lavatory structures made of tin, a cement floor with a tent above it that is used as a medical center, classrooms in two villages and 12 solar panels.
The justices agreed to the residents’ request to issue an interim order to freeze the demolition orders until a general decision is made on the petitions against the evacuation. At the same time, the justices made this order contingent on there being no additional construction in the structures “subject to demolition orders, or adjacent to them.” If this condition is not met, said the justices, “the freeze will not be upheld and the interim order will be invalidated.”
It is not entirely clear whether the decision applies to anyone who builds without a permit or just to the petitioners. Nor was the distance that counts as “adjacent” specified. Thus, theoretically, if a young couple erects a residential tent 100 meters from a classroom that is subject to a demolition order, or if a fence is put up there, the High Court would permit the Civil Administration to take down both the tent and the fence, or both the classroom and the tent, even if it is being used as a medical center.
Following the hearing and the publication of the minutes, Lecker submitted an urgent request to the court to either clarify or update the decision, enumerating the problematic issues he sees with it. In his letter to justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan Meltzer and Yoram Danziger, Lecker wrote, “The petitioners fear – and with good cause, unfortunately – that the Civil Administration inspection unit, which includes at least some residents of the nearby Susya settlement, will take an ‘expansive interpretation’ of the decision and view all construction by anyone ‘even at a significant distance from the structures subject to demolition orders’ as a violation of the interim order.”
Lecker also argued that “environmental” punishment and infringement of one person’s human rights due to the actions and failings of another is not accepted under Israeli or military law (with the exception of security exigencies). Lecker asked the justices to amend the decision so that it will only be considered a violation if the petitioners themselves build additions to the structures subject to the demolition orders.
But at the end of last week, the justices responded that they stand behind their original decision and see no need to change it. They also wrote that “the presumption is upon the respondents, the government authorities, to behave fairly as required.”