Court rejects bid to save outpost homes jutting onto Palestinian land

Chief justice criticizes Netiv Ha’avot residents for adopting new legal premise which they had previously repudiated in petition to leave 6 homes standing

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

One of the 15 homes which are set to be demolished in the Netiv Ha'avot neighborhood in the Elazar settlement on December 6, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
One of the 15 homes which are set to be demolished in the Netiv Ha'avot neighborhood in the Elazar settlement on December 6, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice rejected a petition from the residents of the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost to spare six of the 15 houses slated for demolition, and ruled on Sunday that all homes in the Etzion bloc neighborhood must be razed.

While none of the homes in the outpost on the outskirts of the Elazar settlement sits entirely on private Palestinian land, nine of them have significant portions built illegally, while six of them do so for only a matter of feet.

In their petition last month, for which the State Attorney’s Office indicated its support, the residents claimed that those six houses need not be razed.

Instead, they presented an alternative solution, offering to demolish only the “problematic parts” of the homes, many of them sprawling villas, that were found to have crossed over onto private Palestinian land, thereby allowing the remainder of those buildings to stay intact.

But the High Court sided against the state opinion, and ruled that all 15 homes must be demolished by March 8, 2018 as originally sanctioned.

Netiv Ha’avot residents protest the High Court decision to demolish 17 structures of their outpost, demonstrating outside the Knesset on July 17, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

High Court chief justice Miriam Naor wrote that the illegality of even a fraction of the structures was not a matter of debate, adding that some of the outpost homes had been built in the several years after work-stop and demolition orders had been issued. The fact that some of the homes were only partially built on private Palestinian land was “not a new matter to the parties or the court,” she said.

Naor criticized the premise of the residents’ most recent petition to save six of the homes because it took into account assertions from the original High Court ruling that the settlers had rejected in a previous petition calling for all of the homes to be saved. “You cannot present a new legal front whenever a particular line of argument is rejected,” Naor wrote.

The chief justice recognized that having to uproot people from their homes is painful, but asserted that the Netiv Ha’avot residents were given enough time (a year and a half) to prepare for the implementation of the demolition orders and find alternative housing solutions. “The request before us is an additional attempt beyond what was described in the ruling to delay the inevitable end,” she wrote.

Responding to the High Court ruling in a Sunday evening statement, the Netiv Ha’avot residents called the verdict “pure evil.”

An aerial photograph of the Netiv Ha’avot outpost. The areas colored in blue were deemed by the High Court to be state land. The 17 structures that stand on the non-shaded areas have been sanctioned for demolition. (Courtesy)

“The High Court of Justice continues to play politics and discriminate against the Jewish public, but when it comes to the Arabs, it continuously rules in their favor,” the residents said in a statement.

They went on to target Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his “weakness in the face of the the distress of the citizens in the State of Israel. Only he can change our and we are waiting and expecting an immediate solution from him!” they concluded.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attacked the High Court after its ruling saying the justices “prove time after time that the reservoir of their leftist rulings has no end.”

He went further, calling for legislation that would lower the retirement age for High Court justices, “which will allow a broad refreshment of the composition” of the court.

One of the homes set to be demolished in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost in Gush Etzion, September 2, 2016. (Gerhson Elinson/Flash90)

For its part, the Peace Now settlement watchdog praised the High Court decision in its Sunday statement. “We welcome the judgment that set an unequivocal red line for every Israeli citizen who tries to build on land that is not one’s own… This is the victory for justice, as well as for the original Palestinian landowners, who will, at the end of a tedious journey, regain part of their land after 17 years.”

Netiv Ha’avot was established in 2001 as an extended neighborhood of the Elazar settlement southwest of Bethlehem. Residents of the nearby village of al-Khader, along with the Peace Now settlement watchdog, petitioned the High Court of Justice, claiming Palestinian ownership of the land on which the outpost was built.

In September 2016, the court ruled that 17 buildings in the neighborhood had in fact been constructed on private Palestinian land and ordered that they be demolished by next March.

Among the 17 structures are a small wood shop, as well as a monument for two IDF soldiers killed fighting in Lebanon, both of which have already been dismantled by the settlers. The remaining 15 buildings are homes belonging to residents of the neighborhood.

While the al-Khader residents had sought to have the entire outpost removed under the pretext that it was originally theirs, the High Court only deemed two slivers of land in the middle of the neighborhood to be of Palestinian ownership. The rest of the outpost was retroactively designated as state land.

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