Israel: Settlement Illegally Sought to Tax Palestinians for Synagogue Built on Their Land

State lawyers say Kiryat Arba may not demand municipal tax, which is based on the military’s orders for managing local and regional councils in the West Bank.

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The makeshift Hazon David Synagogue in Kiryat Arba, 2015.
The makeshift Hazon David Synagogue in Kiryat Arba, 2015. Credit: Moti Milrod
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The state announced that the Kiryat Arba local council has no authority to demand municipal tax (arnona) from two Palestinian brothers, even though land and a home belonging to one of them lies in the council’s jurisdiction.

The arnona bill was sent to the landowners after they had petitioned the High Court of Justice asking that the authorities remove from their land a structure  built illegally by Kiryat Arba settlers. The local council says it learned that the Palestinian brothers owned the land from the state’s response to the petition.

But in the state’s response to a second petition by the brothers, against the arnona charge, the state’s lawyers cited Kiryat Arba’s “lack of integrity in issuing a bill under the circumstances.”

In January 2015, the council sent brothers Abdul Karim and Zaidan Jabari an arnona bill for 176,000 shekels ($45,770). In two separate notices, the brothers were warned that if they did not pay they would be fined and a lien would be put on their land and a lien in the Land Registry would constitute a sale of the land to the settlement.

The High Court froze the bill until it ruled on the petition, which was submitted by attorney Sliman Shahin.

The state’s response to the petition at the end of last month, submitted by attorney Liora Weiss-Benski, is based on the military’s orders for managing local and regional councils. Both relate solely to Israeli citizens who are residents of the area, Weiss-Benski said.

She quoted a 2004 ruling by then-Justice Eliezer Rivlin stating that these orders are part of “military command legislation that applies only to residents of Jewish communities.”

Similarly, she noted that according to local-council regulations, Israeli civilian tribunals in the West Bank have no authority to adjudicate issues concerning anyone not a settler unless that party agrees to it.

Thus, according to Weiss-Benski, it was clear that “there was never any intent to grant Israeli local governments in Judea and Samaria authority regarding Palestinian residents or Palestinian properties.”

She also cited two settlements that contain “enclaves of private Palestinian land” Givon Hahadasha, where there are private homes, and Elkana, where there is cultivated agricultural land and noted that no arnona is collected there.

Kiryat Arba’s Givat Ha’avot neighborhood sits next to the petitioners’ land, and in early 2003 a synagogue called Hazon David was put up on their land. The synagogue has since been demolished by the Civil Administration dozens of times, but the settlers have repeatedly rebuilt it. According to the Behadrei Haredim website, last March the structure was demolished for the 48th time.

During the summer the Civil Administration again demolished a structure that had sprung up on the land, but according to Weiss-Benski, as of December there was another structure at the site thought to serve as a synagogue.

Shahin told Haaretz that as of now a tent serving as a synagogue and a shed had been put up on his clients’ property without permission.

In August 2015, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor canceled the brothers’ earlier petition against the illegal structure on their land, saying it had run its course given that the state demolishes the structure whenever it is put back up.

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