Even given the corruption and legal chicanery typical of the settlement enterprise, the case of the Silwan neighborhood’s Batan al-Hawa section stands out. In this case, the state, through the Justice Ministry’s administrator general, transferred an entire neighborhood of 700 people to right-wing group Ateret Cohanim without bothering to inform the Palestinians living in this part of Jerusalem.
To be more precise, in 2002 the administrator general released the land in the center of Silwan to a trust established way back in 1899. A year earlier, with the administrator’s approval, three Ateret Cohanim activists were appointed trustees. Since then, the organization has invested considerable efforts to get rid of the Palestinian families; to date a number of families have been evicted and dozens are conducting legal battles to fight eviction.
On Sunday, around 100 Silwan residents came to the Supreme Court building for a hearing on their petition to the High Court of Justice against the original decision to release the land to the trust. The petition addresses the question of whether the original trust was for the land or for the buildings on it, all but one of which was demolished in the 1940s.
In response to the justices’ questions, the state’s attorney, Netta Oren, admitted that the nature of the trust had not been examined before the land was transferred to the settlers.
Despite this, Oren asked the justices to dismiss the petition on the technical grounds of a late filing and a lack of information. In other words, the state is admitting to the High Court that there were flaws in the decision that will evict 700 people from homes they’ve lived in for 60 years, but in the same breath is asking that the petition be dismissed because the Palestinians didn’t notice the mistake in time.
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The settlement in Batan al-Hawa is the most problematic of all the settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. It is located in the heart of a crowded inner city, weighs heavily on the residents’ daily lives and is intended to prevent any diplomatic solution with the Palestinians. Every Jewish family there needs security that costs around 1 million shekels ($280,000) a year. But the damage doesn’t seem confined to Silwan. This settlement has also corrupted Israel’s bureaucracy.
When the administrator general and state prosecutors found that the 2002 decision had been mistaken, the only decent thing to do would have been to cancel it and freeze the eviction proceedings against the Palestinian families. Instead, government clerks and lawyers are fighting for eviction along with Ateret Cohanim. This is further proof of the extent to which the settlements have corrupted public administration in Israel.
Now the issue rests with the High Court. Hopefully, despite the pressure being put on the justices, they will halt the oppression and corruption.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.