Home Demolitions, From Gush Katif to Umm al-Hiran

The Knesset should consider a law barring the demolition of homes occupied by families for many years and requiring compensation.

Bedouin women react to the destruction of houses on January 18, 2017 in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, which is not recognized by the Israeli government, near the Negev desert city of Beersheba.

Just connect the dots, from the destruction of the homes of the settlers in Gush Katif more than 11 years ago to the destruction of the homes of the Bedouin in Umm al-Hiran last week. Destruction that is carried out in the name of the law, and yet causes great human tragedies. You can pencil in a dot if you like for Amona, destined for destruction by a ruling of the High Court of Justice. The forcible uprooting of many families from the homes they have lived in for many years causes immeasurable grief, suffering and sometimes even bloodshed, as was the case in Umm al-Hiran. And all this in the name of the law or a decision of the High Court, a decision that is at once both verdict and sentence: The homes must be destroyed, regardless of the consequences. The sentence, which in lower courts would be subject to adversarial arguments by the defense and prosecution before being pronounced, is in the High Court final and subject to no appeal. All agree that the decisions of the High Court must be obeyed.

We are, after all, a society in which the law prevails. But is justice really served when hundreds and even thousands are forcibly uprooted from their homes? Or are there some cases, as Mr. Bumble, in Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist,” remonstrated, in which “the law is a ass — a idiot”? Should the justices of the Supreme Court order or justify the destruction of homes and the uprooting of families without considering the consequences of their decision, simply based on their interpretation of the law? The justices who permitted the destruction of the homes of the Bedouin in Umm al-Hiran were surely appalled by the scenes of destruction and the grief of the families who saw their homes destroyed and found themselves overnight exposed to the freezing cold of the Negev desert, and the loss of life that accompanied the execution of the court’s interpretation of the law. All of Israel saw the heartrending scenes at Umm al-Hiran, and who among us felt that justice was truly being served? The scenes from Gush Katif may already have receded from our memories, but they were brought back to mind last week. It does not matter that in Gush Katif, Jewish families were being uprooted from their homes while in Umm al-Hiran, it was Bedouin families were left homeless. In both cases the people affected were Israeli citizens, and the human tragedy is the same. Is there no way to prevent a recurrence of such tragedies?

Possibly the Knesset should consider passing a law that would prevent the destruction of homes that have been occupied by a large number of families for longer than a certain number of years, regardless of land ownership claims by the state or by individuals, making it mandatory that recognized individual claimants be compensated. This would leave to the courts the decision on recognizing the validity of the claims and the size of the compensation. Such a law would prevent the state from destroying the homes of families that have been living in them for many years, and would provide compensation for recognized individual claimants even when they prefer to take possession of the land.

There may be other ways to prevent the recurrence of the tragedies that accompany the forcible removal of families from their homes after they have been occupied for many years. They should all be considered, but something needs to be done.