Settlers' Hopes to Circumvent Demolition of Illegal Homes Quashed by High Court

The homeowners, whose houses are slated to be razed by March 5, had hoped that the new land legalization law might allow the state to expropriate the property and allow them back in, but the state said there was no legal basis for that.

A demonstration in Ofra against the demolition of nine homes there, Feb. 5, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The High Court of Justice has rejected a request by occupants of the nine homes slated for demolition in the West Bank settlement of Ofra to have the buildings sealed rather than torn down. The court had ordered the homes demolished by March 5 after ruling that they were built on privately owned Palestinian land.

The Ofra residents had hoped to benefit from a law passed earlier this month that allows the state to expropriate private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built “in good faith or at the state’s instruction” in specific locations and under certain circumstances. The residents were seeking to have the law invoked so that they could ultimately return, but the court's rejection of the request was expected after the state informed the residents that there was no legal basis for their request.

The court's rejection on Monday paves the way for the demolition, which will now apparently come prior to the March 5 deadline, which is next Sunday.

The residents are now preparing for their eviction and have called on members of the public to come to the settlement on Tuesday morning in protest at the impending demolitions. Earlier this week, right-wing activists tried to hole themselves up in the only one of the nine homes that is not currently occupied by residents, but the Border Police evicted them.

In ruling against the residents on Monday, high court president Miriam Naor also leveled criticism at Habayit Hayehudi Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich, who sought to intervene in support of the residents' request as one of the supporters of the land legalization bill, which provides a mechanism for compensating Palestinians whose land is seized either in cash or with other land.

Citing the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government, Naor said it was inappropriate for a legislator to provide his interpretation of the law in the current case.

In her ruling, Naor said one also cannot ignore what she said was the fact that most of the residents of nine homes moved into the building after an interim order had been issued barring occupancy. The land in question is in the middle of the West Bank settlement, which is north of Jerusalem. Most of the families in the homes in question took up residence in the buildings after the demolition orders were issued and most are expected to move into other housing in Ofra that is being built for them.