Israel's High Court of Justice on Monday called a state request to postpone a hearing on the petition to evacuate the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar "embarrassing," heaping unusual criticism on the state in its ruling.
Israel asked the High Court to postpone the hearing by six months, based on the ongoing coronavirus crisis and "in consideration of the current diplomatic-security situation." The court ruled that they would delay the hearing by only two months.
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The petition was filed by the right-wing NGO Regavim, requesting that the government set a date for the village's evacuation, and was approved by the court two years ago. The hearing was set for September 30 and the state was required to respond to the court 30 days prior. On Monday, the state asked to postpone the hearing to the end of the first quarter of 2021.
Justice Sohlberg noted in his ruling that it was the state that decided in 2009 to issue demolition orders for the houses in the village. In response to petitions against the evacuation, Sohlberg added, the state had repeatedly stressed the urgency and strategic importance of the evacuation.
"Two years have elapsed and nothing at all is new. Even though the state's attorneys argued that implementing the state's decision was urgent, and repeatedly received court permission for such implementation, nothing has changed," Sohlberg wrote in his ruling.
Sohlberg also added that this petition was filed more than a year ago. “Now, close to the date set for the hearing, with strong arguments made against the state for failing to fulfill its commitments, the state’s representatives wish to postpone the date of the hearing, a date that was set according to its request. We cannot accept the request for a six-month postponement,” he determined.
Due to the circumstances, he set the new date for mid-November. The state must respond by November 1. “Indeed, the state has some leeway in setting its priorities and shaping its policies,” he summarized. “Precisely for that reason, it must honor its own commitments and enable citizens to rely upon it, so that they do not become empty promises.”
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The state’s request, accompanied by an affidavit by National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, notes that the current cabinet was established only in May, following a prolonged political crisis. “The new government began its tenure on the backdrop of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, with all the ramifications for its operations and the attention given to this important national task. Under these circumstances, and in light of the diplomatic-security situation, the respondents need more time in order to allow elected officials to address this issue in a thorough manner,” says the affidavit.
The request notes that the decision to implement the demolition of houses built illegally in Khan al-Ahmar still stands. However, the state says that the timing of the eviction must be at the government's discretion, “with the honorable court intervening only in exceptional circumstances.”
Khan al-Ahmar lies close to Highway 1, near the settlement of Kfar Adumim. Dozens of Bedouin families from the Jahalin tribe live there. They were expelled from the Negev after the state was established and moved to this area, living in temporary structures. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly committed to evacuate the village. In an interview to TV Channel 12 a year and a half ago, he said that the evacuation would take place ‘very soon.” Last year, with the ongoing political crisis, the state told the court that the evacuation would be postponed until a new government was formed.