The appointment of a new Interior Ministry chief can go ahead despite a demolition order against the designated director-general's home in a West Bank settlement outpost, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ruled on Monday.
Mendelblit noted in a legal opinion that Yair Hirsch didn't know about the demolition order, and though its existence presented "some legal difficulty," it did not amount to a violation of Hirsch's integrity.
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Last month Haaretz reported that the attorney general would re-examine Hirsch's appointment after the Civil Service Commission received information about the 2008 demolition order against the official's home.
After the report, right-wing Knesset members Yoav Kish (Likud) and Orit Strock (Religious Zionism) called on Knesset to legalize the Kida settlement outpost and support Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked's appointment of Hirsch.
According to the attorney general's Monday statement, Hirsch's appointment should not be disqualified due to the demolition order, in part because the land his home is built on is expected to be reclassified as state land.
Information about the order was obtained through a freedom of information request submitted by Dror Etkes, a researcher for the Kerem Navot organization, through attorney Shachar Ben-Meir. According to the information received, in 2008 the Civil Administration issued an order to stop development work that Hirsch was doing on his home at Kida.
Stop-work orders are issued on illegal buildings or construction work. After it is issued, a committee convenes and the recipient of the order must prove that the work is being done with a permit. According to the information Etkes received, the committee that convened about Hirsch’s home decided to issue a demolition order. Once a demolition order is issued for a structure under construction, the Civil Administration does not usually issue another order for the house built in defiance of it, and the previous order remains in force.
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After learning about the demolition order, Mendelblit ordered a hearing over Hirsch's appointment in the appointments committee, prior to which the Civil Service Commissioner asked the attorney general to present his legal opinion on the matter. Mendelblit explained in his opinion that the order did not constitute a violation of integrity because of the time that had elapsed since it was issued and because construction did not happen through an incursion into private land but rather on land expected to be reclassified as state land. He also wrote that Hirsch did not know about the order, determining that the official presented what information he knew "in good faith" and without the intention to "mislead the government or appointments committee."
Kida is an illegal outpost of around 80 families. It was established without a master plan or building permits, and as of November 2020 it has 110 pending demolition orders against it. Outposts throughout the West Bank have many demolition orders pending that have never been enforced, and the Civil Administration justifies this by claiming it has “priorities.”
The Civil Service Commission, in its response to Haaretz last month, said the fact that enforcement is not a high priority for the Civil Administration is one reason to approve Hirsch’s appointment despite the violation. “The committee considered the matter and even heard the candidate’s testimony to the committee, and came to the conclusion that the allegations in this matter need not prevent the appointment to the position, given the overall circumstances,” the commission said at the time.
In practice, the demolition of Jewish homes in the West Bank is a sensitive political issue and the lack of enforcement stems from domestic political considerations.
Kida is part of the Shiloh bloc, near the settlement of the same name, which is the largest concentration of outposts in the West Bank. In 2005, in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice asking for the evacuation of the Adei Ad outpost, the state said it was planning to legalize this bloc of outposts. However, the bloc was never legalized and thus Kida remains illegal.
In response to Mendelblit's ruling, Ayelet Shaked stated: "I am glad that the attorney general and Civil Service Commissioner accepted the opinion presented to them in regard to Yair Hirsch. As someone who has worked for many years to legalize settlements in Judea and Samaria, I am proud the director-general of this ministry lives in the Kira settlement. He is a worthy appointment and the Interior Ministry is undoubtedly lucky to have him."