Dispossession, a Love Story

The state's unwillingness to evict settlers who have occupied Palestinian-owned land for over 10 years reveals a pattern of systematic defiance of High Court orders.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has a weakness for real estate images, primarily "premium" real estate. Israel is to him a nice villa, the home of good and law-abiding Israeli citizens surrounded by a teeming jungle of bad and law-breaking Arabs.

The story of D., a resident of the Mitzpeh Yair outpost in the southern Hebron Hills, is a fairly routine one in the kingdom of the defense minister and shows that the rules of the jungle have taken over Barak's villa. The story started in 2001, when residents of the illegal outpost began to set their sights on the lands of the Awad family from the nearby town of Sussia. Whenever members of the family of shepherds wanted to tend to the fields where they grow pasture for their flocks, ruffians from the outpost came out and chased them away, threatening with weapons, violence and invective.

When the jungle emptied, D. would treat it as his own villa. He built a series of hothouses on the Awad family's land and it's impossible to manage without someplace to store the tools. After all, an invader from the jungle may steal them. Everything, naturally, was done without a building permit.

In 2002 - that is, 10 years ago - the Civil Administration issued stop work orders against D., which turned into final demolition orders after the criminal failed to turn up for a hearing of the Civil Administration's subcommittee on supervision. In response to the demolition orders, D. built more hothouses, reaching a total of 19. Over the course of another three years the landowners watched their land from afar and got a first-hand taste of the integrity of the laws of the Israeli occupation.

In 2005, D. received the right to oppose the injunctions, but chose to waive it and proceeded to do as he pleased on the land. Nevertheless, after the Awad family petitioned the High Court of Justice in 20010, the Civil Administration granted D. a one-time right for another objection until February 2011. In August 2011, the state informed the High Court that the objection was rejected and therefore, a date would be determined for the demolition to be carried out.

However, what's the rush? It's only been 10 years since D. took over the Awad family's land. The state sought to grant him a 10-day extension so he could take whatever action, including submitting a request for a building permit. All of this happened after the state prosecution had announced that it found a match between the documents the petitioners submitted and the property tax records.

The protocol of the subcommittee on supervision meeting states that "the construction is located outside declared state lands and it is clear that as such, they were not allocated to the holder [that is, D.]," and also "we were not presented with a shred of evidence showing any right whatsoever to the land of the person holding it."

Last March, after D.'s request to review the objection he submitted, the state prosecution notified the High Court that it plans to implement the demolition orders no later than August 31 of this year. Consequently, Shlomo Lecker, the petitioners' attorney, submitted a motion to erase the petition and charge the respondents court fees. Much to his surprise, the prosecution asked that the petition remain pending. The explanation given was "in order for us to be able to report to the court that the implementation of the demolition orders was completed, or alternately, to update it in the event it is necessary to postpone the date of its implementation." In other words, the state is asking to leave itself a way out of its expressed commitment to carry out its promise to the High Court on the date specified.

"Is this another attempt by the state to repeat the Ulpana neighborhood affair and get around implementing a court ruling?" wondered Lecker. "Is there a connection between the state's unusual announcement and the report to legalize outposts which stated that in a case where petitions were submitted to the High Court, the state must refrain from expressing an opinion and not take irreversible actions such as eviction and demolition?"

Lecker, who is representing the cave dwellers of the southern Hebron Hills that the state has decided to evacuate from the area, adds that "not surprisingly, the Civil Administration's actions with regard to construction without a permit by D. differs completely from its attitude toward construction by Palestinians."

The spokesman of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories stated in response: "We thank the reporter for his concern regarding the implementation of evacuation orders 40 days in advance as stipulated by the court, and promise to include this report in the overall considerations and priorities of the eviction."

The Justice Ministry spokesman asked to suffice with the response the state prosecution submitted to the High Court.