Uneven Policy

Last month Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy issued an interim injunction preventing the settlement of Ofra from continuing to build nine homes, which are apparently being built on private Palestinian land. But 10 days later, Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan ordered the police to halt the implementation of the ruling.

It is important to note that Nitzan has no authority to halt the implementation of an order by the High Court of Justice. If the State Prosecutor's Office has any reservations about the ruling, an application must be made to the court for clarification. In a response to a question from Haaretz, the Justice Ministry said Nitzan denied any wrongdoing and offered a convoluted explanation. Still, things Nitzan said at closed meetings contradict that response and his official explanations, Haaretz has learned.

On June 4, human rights groups B'tselem and Yesh Din petitioned the High Court to halt construction on nine houses in Ofra that were being built - including in the state's opinion - on private Palestinian land. The respondents to the petition included Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Civil Administration head Yoav Mordechai, Ofra and the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council.

On June 19, Justice Levy announced the issuing of "an interim ruling forbidding the occupancy of the houses and any use of them. The respondents are likewise ordered to abstain from continuing to build in the area covered by the petition, and to connect buildings there to the water, electricity and sewage systems, all until the court rules otherwise." The court said the interim injunction was "directed at the respondents and orders them to refrain from occupying the buildings."

However, eight of the buildings were already occupied by settlers before the interim order was issued.

A few days after the issuing of the injunction, Nitzan sent the Shai police - the Judea and Samaria regional police - an unequivocal opinion of the injunction and implementation instructions.

"The use of the apartments, including as living quarters, is a violation of the court order," wrote Nitzan. "I request that the police, in coordination with the Israel Defense Forces, affix the injunctions to the buildings. Starting 24 hours after the affixing [of the injunctions], people who use the houses are to be detained, as part of the investigation, both as suspected trespassers and suspected violators of a legal order."

Nitzan also ordered the acceleration of a police investigation into the identity of the initiators of the construction, the role of the regional council and whether the tenants knew that the construction was illegal.

One week later, on June 30, Nitzan convened a meeting at his office, including the Binyamin police-station commander and other Shai police officers. The tone at that meeting was completely different. The discussion stressed "dialogue" with Ofra's leaders and a planned meeting with the settlement's rabbi. Nitzan also informed participants that one of the residents of the disputed houses, Moshe Brott, had requested recognition as one of the respondents to the petition.

The police's representative said that "cumulative intelligence" indicates the likelihood of violent opposition to the injunction, prompting the initiation of a dialogue with Ofra representatives. At the end of the meeting, Nitzan, who also heads the law-enforcement team in the territories, declared that "in light of Brott's application to the High Court, the police should suspend the distribution of the orders to the tenants living in the houses and their summoning for questioning."

In response to Haaretz's questions, the Justice Ministry said that the state sees no need to order the evacuation of the buildings in Ofra, as "the order was not directed at those living in the houses, who were not included as respondents to the petition, and did not forbid them individually from living in the houses."

The Justice Ministry also said that "contrary to the allegations, the deputy state prosecutor did not order the police not to enforce the interim injunction given by the High Court. Furthermore, the deputy state prosecutor ordered the police to advance the police investigation into the affair." The above statement, it should be noted, contradicts something attributed to Nitzan at the June 30 meeting.

Yesterday the petitioners were expected to submit a request for the High Court to clarify whether the order includes the evacuation of the buildings.