Osnat Mandel of the State Attorney’s office told the High Court of Justice Tuesday that, “no matter what,” the residents of Migron would be evacuated in the coming days.
But while this apparently definitive statement would seem to indicate that the saga of the West Bank’s largest outpost — which began when the first arrivals set up a fake telephone antenna on the 2,450-foot-high hilltop in 2001 — is now near to its conclusion, other statements from the very same official, regarding the settlers’ recent acquisition of certain parcels of land within Migron, suggested that a resolution is as elusive as ever.
The 50 families living in Migron are split into two groups, both of which have agreed to leave the outpost and relocate to the nearby Givat Hayekev — a replacement site built for them by the government. Yet the deadline for voluntary relocation was Tuesday, and neither of the two groups has left.
The larger, 33-family group is represented by attorney Barak Bar-Shalom, and its case was the first to occupy the court on Tuesday, with Bar-Shalom asking the justices for a two-to-three-week delay in the evacuation order.
This part of the hearing cast Chief Justice Asher Grunis, Deputy Chief Justice Miriam Naor and Justice Edna Arbel in the role of exacerbated teachers, and the petitioners as chastised yet disobedient students.
Mandel, head of the High Court of Justice department at the State Attorney’s Office, began by telling the court that, as of Monday afternoon, the Binyamin Local Council had informed the state that the local council has ruled that the alternative site is unsafe and that the families cannot yet relocate.
Chief Justice Grunis responded: “Is (the local council engineer) Mr. Eli Barkal here? You submitted his opinion before the court.”
Attorney Bar-Shalom: “He is not here. Maybe that’s not okay. I understand from the state’s response that no one disputes that the construction is not finished. I asked for a report regarding the construction and found out that there are still tractors working on the site. Sending 200 kids there doesn’t seem smart… It’s true that the evacuation must be done as ordered by the court but it should not be done in haste…”
Justice Arbel: “You submit an opinion and we want to ask questions. How can we know (the answers) if the engineer does not show up?”
Bar-Shalom: “Correct. It’s not okay. I will ask to call him here in a hurry. During the hearing we will try to call him to the hearing and he will come here.”
Yuval Burg of the Jewish Agency told the court that there were 50 units in place ready for habitation. Electricity, water and sewage had been installed. A kindergarten, a synagogue and a central office will be ready within 10 days. A ritual bath, once authorized, will be installed within 60 days. All roads will be complete by September 2. All sidewalks by September 4. Grass lawns will be ready within two weeks. Railings or a fence will be ready by the end of the day. Finally, he said, although lighting and water systems were installed as customary, the local council had demanded authorization from the fire department.
Chief Justice Grunis, upon hearing this, could not contain himself any longer: “I’d say that this is downright ironic,” he said, referring to the fact that Migron, where the families have lived for years, has no authorization of any kind.
The justices will rule on this matter in the coming days.
The second segment of the proceedings was far more complex. There are 17 families in Migron who claim to live on land that a settlement group called al-Wattan – the homeland, in Arabic – purchased two months ago.
Their attorney, Ze’ev Scharf, asked that the court allow them to remain in Migron, their houses untouched, until the matter is thoroughly investigated.
The state provided a circuitous response. It said that since there was currently no authorized route that enabled the settlers to come and go from the land without passing through Palestinian property, “the residents,” so as not to violate Palestinian property rights, “should evacuate the buildings on all plots that are in Migron.”
After the evacuation, however, the state asked the court for three months to investigate the land claims, specifically on Plot 10, the only one to have been allegedly purchased in full from a Palestinian owner.
Mandel revealed that some of the original Palestinian appellants are no longer listed as the owners but said that “a complaint has been filed with the police.”
She was presumably referring to Abed al-Mona’im Moatan, whose recently deceased father allegedly sold the land to a Palestinian collaborator, who then sold the land to al-Wattan, the settler organization. He told the Times of Israel that the signature was “a forgery” and that he submitted examples of his father’s writing and other evidence to the authorities for comparison.
In the interim the state has asked the court for a stay in the demolition order on those 17 families’ caravan-homes.
If the land deal is deemed legitimate, the petitioners believe, the authorities would be able to draft access roads to the area in question, leaving part of the settlement in place for the foreseeable future.
The Palestinians’ representative in court, Michael Sfard, said that in May 2001, while the residents of Migron were bringing the first caravans up the steep side of the hill, a handicapped Arab resident of Jaffa, Musa Deka, came before the court in an unrelated matter. Deka asked that the floor he had built above his parents’ house be recognized as legal after the fact, since there was no doubt that he was the owner of the property and that only unfair zoning had prevented him from building legally. The court denied him, saying that the order of events cannot be reversed. First one must attain permission and then build.
Sfard said the same should apply to Migron. He said he found it hard to believe that one of his former clients had decided on his death bed to sell his property, for which he had fought for years, to a known Palestinian collaborator, but that even if the deal proved legal, the settlement, built without permits, had to be “broken and crushed.”
Paraphrasing the people of Israel upon receiving the Ten Commandments, Sfard said that citizens of Israel cannot “do, and then listen — first build, and then hear what the authorities have to say.”
In the coming days the court will decide whether the matter of Migron has, as Sfard posited, “reached the end point,” or if the struggle will continue.
Tuesday’s hearing strongly suggested the latter.