Israel's Civil Administration has suspended the planned evacuation of an illegal West Bank outpost after intervention by the defense minister’s bureau.
In the state’s response to a High Court petition filed by Palestinians from the village of Al-Sawahra al-Sharqiya who sought to have the outpost removed, it was revealed that Avi Roeh, former aid to the defense minister (then Benjamin Netanyahu) for settlement affairs, instructed the administration to freeze the evacuation of the Mitzpe Yehuda outpost south of the Kedar settlement.
Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office that intervention by political officials for the sake of halting outpost evacuations is a recurring phenomenon that raises the specter of “the emergence of a highly problematic trend that undermines the rule of law.”
According to the state’s response to the petition, the outpost was erected on September 15 and the same day Civil Administration inspectors patrolled the area and found, among other things, a shade canopy, a water tracker, and a truck - typical of things found at shepherds’ outposts. It also says that “on the same day,’ the authorities decided to confiscate the equipment and the truck, because it also held a refrigerator and beds and looked like it was meant to be used for lodging.
However, that same day, Roeh verbally instructed the administration to freeze the removal of the structures. This was in wake of an “urgent” letter from Gush Etzion Council Chief Shlomo Ne’eman who said that the outpost “lies in the jurisdiction of the Gush Etzion regional council on land that is of private Jewish ownership.” On September 18, Roeh issued written instructions that the outpost should not be removed, and it was not, since the Civil Administration answers to the defense minister.
Even if an outpost is erected on privately owned Jewish land, as Ne’eman says, construction on that site is not necessarily legal. The Civil Administration has removed portable structures or structures built without a permit from privately owned West Bank land many times.
Ne’eman says the outpost is in the process of being authorized and there were no structures there that constituted illegal construction. In his letter he also asked that a protest tent erected by Palestinians near the outpost be removed: “We expect the system of the Civil Administration to stand by the law-abiding and not the law-breakers, and instead of committing an outrageous and illegal action against the Jewish farmer, to immediately remove the illegal Arab tent encampment.”
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On September 25, the administration did remove the protest tent, based on the same regulations by which it originally planned to remove the outpost.
At the end of September, the settlers who live at the outpost submitted an application for planning authorization of the site, which is currently under discussion. Nonetheless, in early January, the administration issued cease-work orders to the outpost. Unlike the previous injunction issued to the outpost that allowed for immediate enforcement, this one is contingent upon a hearing for the property owners before it can be executed.
In the Palestinians’ petition, filed by attorney Shadi Masarwa, they claim ownership of the land on which the outpost was built. But according to the state’s response, the land there is not registered in the name of the petitioners. The administration said the land was purchased and that initial registration procedures were done but did not specify in whose name, and the land registry in the West Bank is classified.
The settlers say the land was purchased by them and registered in the Tabu. In the petition they filed against the plan to evacuate them, they argued that the land was purchased by the Mitzpe Le’Bniya company and then a contract was signed between the company and the settlers already at the location. They appended a copy of the land registration certificate in the Civil Administration. The petition was rejected because at this stage the administration is no longer seeking to evacuate the outpost.
In October, Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz wrote to Ronen Peretz, acting director of the Prime Minister’s Office, criticizing political officials’ intervention against the removal of structures in the territories. Kaminitz said political officials had acted on a number of occasions to halt enforcement against illegal construction, adding that “It is made possible through the issuing of extensions for the prevention of the removal of construction, in a way that in effect thwarts the possibility of enforcing the law and carrying out effective enforcement actions." He cited, among other examples, the halting of the removal of structures at the Sde Ephraim outpost as well as at Givat Assaf and Havat Negohot.
“This is a very alarming accumulation of cases that raises the specter of the emergence of a highly problematic trend that undermines the rule of law,” Kaminitz wrote. He pointed out that in the case of Sde Ephraim, due to the postponement of the evacuation, the 60-day period during which portable structures may be seized expired. “It’s important to make clear that, as a rule, the political echelon is not authorized to intervene in decisions related to law enforcement,” Kaminitz added.
A spokesperson for Peace Now pointed out that “when it’s a temporary Palestinian tent – it’s immediately taken down. When it’s a new illegal settlement – they don’t touch it. The Israeli government isn’t worried about illegal construction in the territories, it just doesn’t want the Palestinians to be able to build and develop.”
The Coordinator or Government Activity in the Territories says that “the matter is being heard in court. We will act in accordance with the court’s decisions.”
The defense minister’s office had no comment on the matter.