Outpost was home to Raziel Shevach, killed in terror attack

Cabinet to vote on steps to authorize illegal West Bank outpost

After delay, Liberman says proposal granting Defense Ministry powers to examine recognizing Havat Gilad will be raised on Sunday

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

The West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The cabinet will vote on Sunday on a proposal that would begin the process of legalizing the Havat Gilad outpost, less than a month after the murder of resident Raziel Shevach, the Defense Ministry announced Wednesday.

If adopted by the cabinet, the proposal would authorize the defense minister to instruct relevant government bodies to examine the legal aspects of recognizing Havat Gilad as an official settlement, a statement announcing the proposal said earlier this month.

On January 9, Rabbi Raziel Shevach was gunned down by Palestinian terrorists while on his way home to the northern West Bank outpost. Even before the burial of the 35-year-old father of six, settler leaders and right-wing lawmakers began to call for the outpost to be legalized in response to the attack.

Defense Avigdor Liberman leads a meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu faction at the Knesset, Jerusalem, January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A vote on Liberman’s proposal had been scheduled for this Sunday, but was pulled at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cited “tactical reasons” for the delay.

The hilltop community southeast of Nablus was founded in 2002 in memory of Gilad Zar, security coordinator of the Samaria Regional Council, who was shot dead in an attack a year earlier.

Zar’s brother Itai, who helped establish the outpost, praised Wednesday’s announcement, telling The Times of Israel that the move marked “a holiday for all of Israel.”

He admitted that while feelings were “bittersweet” due to Shevach’s murder, his memory was helping “preserve the community for years to come.”

Rabbi Raziel Shevach with his family, in an undated photo (Courtesy of the family)

When Liberman initially submitted the proposal on January 14, he received criticism by some settler leaders who claimed it presented an extra and unnecessary step.

One West Bank council chairman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, dismissed the announcement as “spin.”

“He’s asking the cabinet for approval to direct bodies that are already under his jurisdiction,” said the official. “Liberman doesn’t want to make the decision himself so he’s passing it on to the cabinet.”

A spokesman for the defense minister rejected the criticism at the time, and insisted that such cabinet approval was necessary if the government wants to legalize the outpost. Asked why no such decision was passed before the government legalized other outposts, the spokesman said the legal circumstances were unique in the case of Havat Gilad.

Regardless, significant hurdles still remain in the hilltop community’s path to official recognition. According to the IDF’s land registrar in the West Bank, most of the land on which the illegal outpost was constructed is privately owned Palestinian property, the Haaretz daily reported earlier this month.

The outpost was founded on land purchased by Zar, but the current community of some 40 families sits on areas far larger than the original purchase, and includes land that is owned by Palestinians — according to both the claims of local Palestinians and the Israeli land registrar.

President Reuven Rivlin (second to left) makes a condolence visit to the family of Raziel Shevach in the Havat Gilad outpost on January 18, 2018. (Credit: Mark Nyman)

Furthermore, none of the buildings in the outpost, including those situated on Israeli-owned land, are legal, and all have outstanding demolition orders against them, since they were built without a zoning or planning process, and without the approval of local government bodies.

A law that passed in February 2016 allows the Israeli government to retroactively expropriate private Palestinian land where illegal outpost homes have been built, provided that the outposts were established “in good faith” or had government support and that the Palestinian owners receive financial compensation for the land.

None of those conditions are met in Havat Gilad’s case, according to sources cited in the Haaretz report.

However, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said last week that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had given his blessing to the legalization of the outpost, saying “there is no legal impediment” to raising Liberman’s proposal.

Separately Wednesday, Israeli security forces arrested five settler youth who attempted to prevent soldiers from demolishing a building in the illegal Havat Maon outpost in the south Hebron hills. They were released several hours later.

The teens, who hurled stones at soldiers during the evacuation, were banned from the area for 15 days upon their release, the right-wing legal aid group Honenu said.

During his interrogation, one of the detainees was evacuated to a medical clinic in the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement for treatment. Honenu said security forces had violently detained the suspects, some of whom were minors.

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