Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the removal of 17 homes in the unauthorized Netiv Ha’avot settlement in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc, near Bethlehem.
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The court ruled on a petition by Peace Now, finding that the outpost now home to several dozen families was built on privately owned Palestinian land since 2001.
The state has tried to designate the area retroactively as state land. The buildings slated for removal were built in an area not designated as state land.
The decision gives the government a deadline of December 31 to evacuate two of the homes and the remainder by March 6, 2018.
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor wrote in her ruling that “nobody contests that the buildings in question were built illegally, without the area having been authorized for an outpost, or the appropriate permits obtained.” The decision also says that the government had agreed in the past to remove seven buildings, but has failed to do so.
The Israeli government pledged in 2011 it would remove most unauthorized settlements built on private Palestinian land. Many eviction plans wind up delayed by legal battles or lengthy attempts to find alternative locations.
A similar battle to evict an unauthorized settlement is brewing over the Amona outpost, in the Ramallah area, where the U.S. has protested an Israeli plan to move illegal settler homes to another site owned by Palestinians who left the area in 1967, the year Israel captured the territory in the Six-Day War.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked responded to the ruling, saying "in the past year and a half, the Defense Ministry and the Justice Ministry are working to formalize settlement where it's possible, and the state deemed that in this case its possible.
"The court's ruling came after the state changed the manner in which it responded [to the court], in light of policy changes led by the political leadership. Now the court is giving precedent to legal procedure over substance, while ignoring the complex reality in the area. I will work with the Defense Ministry to dedicate the resources need to advance the process of 'Initial Registration,' which will allow the formalization of these homes. The registration can serve as a change in circumstances that will allow the state to petition the court to annul the demolition order."
Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud), a resident of Gush Etzion, blasted the ruling.
“The High Court’s scandalous decision to destroy part of the Netiv Ha’avot community, in the heart of Gush Etzion, crosses red lines and shows the court’s complete disconnect from common sense and the values of the Jewish people’s history and heritage,” he said. “Once again, we’re seeing the urgent need for a fundamental reform of the Israeli legal system. I urge the justice minister to lead a far-reaching reform that will restore the entire Israeli public’s faith in the Supreme Court.”
MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) also assailed the decision. “The High Court’s surprising (to say the least) decision this evening leaves no choice but to enact legislation, and the sooner the better,” he said. “Former Justice Edmond Levy said this long ago, and now the time has come, and immediately.
“All of this, of course, is for the interim, prior to the correct and just solution of applying Israeli law to all of Judea and Samaria,” he added, referring to the West Bank. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get started!”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) lambasted the decision as well.
“The High Court’s ruling, which orders the destruction of 17 houses in Gush Etzion, is extremely grave,” he said. “Radical left-wing organizations that have despaired of persuading the people of the need to establish a State of Palestine in Judea and Samaria have opted to detour around the public and exploit the legal system as a tool to impose the minority’s policy on the majority. When the High Court lends a hand to this, it destroys the public’s faith in it.”
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) responded angrily to Bennett’s remarks, saying he “ought to enter a civics class sometime to understand what democracy is. The High Court’s ruling on Netiv Ha’avot isn’t connected to our conflict with the Palestinians, but to who we are and what our values are.
“The education minister must understand once and for all that democracy isn’t the tyranny of the majority, with no restrictions, but a system of values and the rule of law, which the High Court upholds,” she continued. “Moreover, the majority’s position definitely isn’t to build illegally in all kinds of isolated settlements, for which we’ll all pay the price.
“Woe to us that this is what the education minister says on the first day of school,” she concluded.