State Rejects Delaying Demolition of Four Settler Homes Built on Private Palestinian Land

State tells High Court that it would agree to postponing demolition of five other houses in Ofra settlement, whose residents are preparing to move.

Residents of the West Bank settlement of Ofra and the neighboring illegal outpost of Amona demonstrating in favor of legalizing their communities, Sept. 27, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The state objects to delaying the scheduled demolition of four of the nine homes in the settlement of Ofra, it told the High Court of Justice on Monday, but it does not object to delaying the demolition of the other five homes, whose residents are preparing for their move.

According to a previous ruling by the High Court of Justice, the nine homes – built illegally on private Palestinian land in the settlement, located in the northern part of the West Bank – are supposed to be evacuated and dismantled no later than February 8. Last week the nine families submitted a request to the court to delay the demolition by three months, arguing that during those months their new homes would be completed and they could move directly into them.

A final decision on the matter is due in the coming days.

According to the state, one of the four buildings the state expects to be demolished soon isn’t occupied, therefore “the request and updated announcement [by the residents] don’t provide a reason that justifies delaying the execution of the ruling with regard to this structure.” The residents in the other three homes have not reported their specific plans for alternative housing to the state, and so the state wrote, “Under these circumstances, there are no grounds that justify accepting to the request to delay carrying out the ruling.”

With regard to the remaining five homes, whose occupants are expected to move to new housing in three months, the state wrote, “The considerations with regard to these five homes are more complex. Given all the considerations, way beyond the letter of the law and for clear humanitarian reasons, the state does not object to the honorable court delaying the evacuation of the five other structures – on condition that all the adult occupants of these five structures sign a personal declaration, stating they commit to evacuating the structures peacefully, whether their request is accepted or denied.”

The families living in the nine homes issued a statement saying they are, “disappointed at the position of the state, which chose legal casuistry that will end in destruction and strife, rather than preferring the path of peace and construction. We hope that the High Court justices will demonstrate the necessary responsibility and delay the demolition as we requested, so as to avoid unnecessary harm to the families.”

In February 2015, the High Court ordered the state to demolish within two years the nine homes that were built by the Amana settlement movement on private Palestinian land, without proper building permits. The order was handed down in response to a petition filed by landowners and the Yesh Din human rights organization in 2008. At that time the court issued a restraining order against occupying the homes, but families moved in anyway, and a complaint filed with police was not addressed by the Judea and Samaria District Police.

The state argued at the time that the houses should not be demolished because all of Ofra had been built without building permits, much of it on private land, so the fate of these nine homes could eventually be decided during diplomatic negotiations along with the fate of the whole settlement.