High Court delays demolition of 15 homes in Netiv Ha’avot outpost

But Chief Justice Hayut again rejects request to spare six of the houses that had only small parts built illegally on land not belonging to the state

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

Border Police officers guard near tractors during preparations for the evacuation and demolition of the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost on February 7, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Border Police officers guard near tractors during preparations for the evacuation and demolition of the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost on February 7, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday accepted the state’s request to delay next week’s scheduled demolition of 15 homes in the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost for three months.

Citing the Defense Ministry assessment that construction of a temporary community for the residents should be completed by June 15, Chief Justice Esther Hayut agreed to postpone next Tuesday’s evacuation until then.

The ruling made clear that it would be “the final extension, at the end of which the respondents will have to execute the judgment [to raze the homes] as written.”

However, the court struck down the second part of the state’s request to save six of the illegally built homes by sawing off the “problematic parts” that only protrude into private Palestinian land by a number of feet.

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

An identical request by the residents was made earlier this year, but was shot down by the High Court in October. In that decision, however, Hayut wrote that had those six homes received building permits prior to their construction, they could have been saved.

On Wednesday, she again asserted that it wasn’t merely the fact that the homes were built on stolen land — albeit marginally — that warranted their razing; they were also constructed without permits and after stop-work and demolition orders were handed down to the residents the moment they began building them.

In reaching its decision, the court stated that it took into account a letter from the Netiv Ha’avot families accompanying the delay request, pledging “to evacuate the homes without resistance, without violence, and to refrain from bringing demonstrators” into their homes.

Praising the decision, the residents said that “the High Court of Justice did what was asked of it by complying with the state’s request to postpone the destruction at least until a humanitarian solution is reached.

“However, the struggle of the residents of Nativ Ha’avot will not end until they return to permanent homes in our neighborhood,” they wrote in a statement Wednesday.

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)

While the Yesha settlement umbrella council commended the High Court for “finally finding room to consider the residents,” the group’s statement expressed regret that the proposal to save six of the homes was denied.

“We will be stronger and more prosperous, and for every house that will be demolished we will build at least 10 houses in the Nativ Ha’avot neighborhood,” Yesha said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he welcomed the court’s ruling, as “it will enable us to complete the dialogue with the residents and reach an agreed solution.”

The Peace Now settlement watchdog accepted the decision as well, lauding the court for rejecting the state’s “absurd” request to save six of the homes by sawing off “the problematic parts.”

The group added that it hoped the delay “will not be exploited (by the residents) for further attempts to evade the implementation of the ruling.”

Security forces evacuate Israeli settlers from the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost in the West Bank, November 29, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

While they may not enter the homes themselves, hundreds of youths are still expected to descend on Netiv Ha’avot on the day of the evacuation.

Last month, residents hosted some 1,000 youth for Shabbat in an effort to recruit support ahead of the March razing. A staple at past demolitions of Israeli settlements, the younger protesters’ presence at such operations has frequently led to clashes with troops.

Wednesday’s ruling came three days after the cabinet approved a proposal to begin the process of legalizing Netiv Ha’avot.

While that decision will not cover the 15 homes slated for demolition, the residents intend to utilize the legalization of the remainder of the outpost, where over 20 other families live, to advance the construction of 350 more homes, thereby significantly expanding the neighborhood.

In addition, government ministers authorized the funneling of nearly NIS 60 million ($17.2 million) from the Finance Ministry to the Gush Etzion Regional Council — the representative municipal body for the Elazar settlement, where Netiv Ha’avot is located.

Peace Now activists protest in front of the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood in favor of the outpost’s court ordered demolition on February 15, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Nearly half of the funds to be transferred — NIS 29 million ($8.31 million) — will go toward building a temporary neighborhood for the 15 families whose homes are slated for demolition until permanent homes are built for them nearby.

While the plan for the hilltop community has already been approved for construction, the cabinet proposal will ensure that it has the funds to be actualized.

An additional NIS 24 million ($6.88 million) will be given to the residents as compensation for the demolished illegally built homes; and NIS 2.25 million ($644,580) will cover the residents’ stay in guest accommodation for three months, if the temporary neighborhood is not completed before the demolition.

It was a September 2016 High Court ruling that initially sanctioned the demolition. The judges accepted the petition of a group of Palestinians who argued the homes had been partially built illegally on their land.

The ruling called for the demolition of 17 structures in total. The two nonresidential ones — a carpentry shop and a war memorial for slain IDF soldiers — were demolished last year.

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