Supreme Court Harshly Criticizes State's Methods for Allowing Illegal Construction in West Bank

The Supreme Court was highly critical yesterday of the state's conduct in allowing illegal construction in the West Bank. Justices Dorit Beinisch and Ayala Procaccia gave scathing responses to the state's request for retroactive approval of the construction of a sewage purification system for the settlement of Ofra.

The system was built on private Palestinian land and without permission. The deliberations, in which Justice Hanan Melcer was also involved, dealt with petitions by the owner of the land demanding that the structure be razed and the property restored to its owner.

Beinisch and Procaccia were particularly critical of the way the state is handling the issue.

Sewage purification plant in Ofra
Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel

"How does [this request] stand up to the basic criteria of proper governance?" Procaccia asked. "First there is construction and then it is authorized? Is this something that can stand up to the standards of public governance?"

The president of the court, Beinisch, said this was not the first time the state had used such methods.

Procaccia said that "in the previous judgment we spoke about a legal solution," but "in your solution I see so many problems."

Attorney Akiva Sylvetsky, representing Ofra, said there was no other way of doing things in this matter. This enraged Procaccia. "There is no other solution except an illegal solution?" she asked.

Sylvetsky tried to explain that the case in question was not a "settlement act." He said that some 2,000 housing units were also approved retroactively in Palestinian communities.

"All of Ofra is surrounded by private land, and this should be considered an exceptional situation," he said.

Representing the petitioners and the human rights group Yesh Din, attorney Michael Sfard said that in 1981 the land was appropriated for Ofra's sewage system.

"However, since then they continued building homes around the installation, and it is no longer possible to use the old installation," he said. "If they implement the orders to raze the homes surrounding the old installation, they will not have to violate the property rights at the new site."

The representative of the state said great efforts were being made to legalize the work on the ground.

Beinisch said "we meet here and hold a regular ritual. We say it will be all right, and there is foot-dragging. It is not enough to say we need to see what is happening."

At the end of deliberations the justices issued a warning to the state to answer within 90 days why it did not implement the orders to raze the structures at the site.