High Court freezes compensation to owners of razed West Bank homes

Interim order requires state to justify why it should be allowed to repay settlers for demolishing homes they built illegally on land that was not theirs

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

An Israeli flag flies over the remains of a woodhsop in the Netiv Ha'avot outpost after Israeli security forces demolished it on November 29, 2017. (Courtesy: Campaign to save Netiv Ha'avot)
An Israeli flag flies over the remains of a woodhsop in the Netiv Ha'avot outpost after Israeli security forces demolished it on November 29, 2017. (Courtesy: Campaign to save Netiv Ha'avot)

The High Court of Justice temporarily froze the government’s transfer of millions of shekel in compensation to the evacuees of illegally built West Bank homes in Amona, Ofra and Netiv Ha’avot Tuesday.

The court said the state must submit a statement by March 12 justifying why it should be allowed to repay settlers for demolishing homes they built without the government’s permission.

After the filing, the court will decide whether to lift the freeze or keep it in place while it makes a final decision on compensating the settlers.

Tuesday’s ruling was in response to a petition from attorney Shachar Ben Meir, who argued that cabinet decisions in December 2016 and last month to approve such compensation encouraged further illegal building.

“The state cannot compensate building offenders for their homes being demolished when they built without a permit on land that wasn’t theirs. And if it decides to do so, it must be according to rules that are equal to everyone,” Ben Meir told The Times of Israel, arguing that similar compensation must be divvied out for illegal construction within the Green Line as well.

Attorney Shahar Ben-Meir seen at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on November 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In February 2017, Israeli forces razed the Amona outpost in the central West Bank after the High Court ruled over two years prior that the 40-family community had been built illegally on private Palestinian land.

The same reason was given to raze nine homes in the nearby settlement of Amona which were demolished a month later.

In September 2016, the High Court handed down a similar ruling regarding the Netiv Ha’avot outpost in the Gush Etzion bloc. In that case, the state’s top legal body 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. Two nonresidential structures — a carpentry shop and a war memorial for slain IDF soldiers — were demolished last year.

The remaining 15 homes were slated to be razed Tuesday, but the High Court accepted a petition by the state last week to delay the demolition for three months while an alternative neighborhood is built for the evacuees adjacent to the Alon Shvut settlement.

Protesters sit on a rooftop of a home during an operation to evacuate nine homes in the Jewish settlement of Ofra, in the West Bank, February 28, 2017. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Tuesday’s interim order applied to the cabinet’s February decision to authorize 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.

Nearly half of those funds — NIS 29 million ($8.31 million) — were slated to 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 temporary hilltop community for Netiv Ha’avot resident has already been approved for construction, the cabinet decision was supposed to ensure that the settlers had the funds to move forward with the building.

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

A similar cabinet decision was made in December 2016 to compensate each family in Amona and Ofra with NIS 40 million ($11.57 million) before their homes were razed three and four months later respectively.

For bureaucratic reasons, that money has yet to be transferred.

Israeli police forces evacuate people from the synagogue of the illegal outpost of Amona, on the second day of the eviction on February 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The compensation is in addition to the establishment of the first new settlement in over a quarter century for evacuees of Amona.

Last month, the first trailers were installed for the new hilltop community in the central West Bank and Tuesday’s ruling is not expected to affect the residents plans to move into the settlement, dubbed Amichai, later this month.

The international community regards Israeli settlements as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Israel, however, differentiates between settlements it has approved and those it has not. Those without approval are referred to as outposts and are typically populated by hardline religious nationalists who see the entire West Bank as part of Israel.

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