High Court orders demolition of 17 outpost homes, leaves others

Judges say West Tapuah houses built on private Palestinian land must be removed by June 2018; 18 other homes there may be allowed to remain

A man praying at the illegal outpost of Amona, with a view of West Bank settlements, on February 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A man praying at the illegal outpost of Amona, with a view of West Bank settlements, on February 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court ordered Tuesday that 17 homes in an illegal Israel outpost in the West Bank be razed, less than a day after lawmakers passed a controversial law intended to circumvent court rulings based on Palestinian claims of land ownership.

The court ruled that Israeli authorities have until June 2018 to evacuate and raze 17 homes in the outpost of West Tapuah, south of Nablus. However, another 18 homes were allowed to remain for now, with the court seemingly giving the government the go-ahead to retroactively legalize them.

The case was bought by the Yesh Din organization against the residents of West Tapuah on behalf of 15 residents of the nearby Palestinian village of Yasuf who claim to be the owners of the land. The court found that some 17 buildings were built intentionally in an area known to be privately owned.

Yesh Din said in response it was dismayed by the ruling, insisting it did not go far enough.

“We regret that the High Court allows the continued existence of the outpost, the existence of which constantly impinges on the human rights of the Palestinian residents of the neighboring village. The ruling shows that government policy, foremost the Regulation Bill which passed yesterday, is a policy of theft which withholds even the most basic rights from Palestinians,” the group said in a statement.

Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, hailed the ruling as a “boomerang” that ended up hurting Yesh Din.

“This decision is great news for settlements and for Kfar Tapuah, since hundreds of dunams of state land were okayed for construction, making possible the expansion of Tapuah,” he said, according to Israel National News.

West Tapuah lies adjacent to the West Bank settlement of Kfar Tapuah, near the city of Ariel.

West Tapuah (circled) adjacent to the West Bank town of Kfar Tapuach (Google maps)
West Tapuah (circled) adjacent to the West Bank town of Kfar Tapuah (Google maps)

On Monday, Israeli lawmakers passed the Regulation Law, a measure that allows Israel to retroactively legalize the appropriation of Palestinian land by Jewish settlers, if it was done unknowingly, and compensate the landowners instead of removing the outposts.

The legislation, which is expected to be struck down if challenged in court, came as bulldozers began razing the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated in a fraught police operation last week following decades of legal battles and political wrangling.

The Regulation Bill covers cases where settlers put homes on land thought to belong to the state, as happened with 500 dunams (124 acres) of land west of Kfar Tapuah in 1987.

Shortly afterward, 19 residents of Yasuf claimed that the area was their agricultural land. Their case was rejected in 1989 by a military court, partly on the basis that the rocky terrain meant that the land was not suitable for agriculture.

After an examination by a government body tasked with delineating state land, the line was redrawn in 2011 and part of the area was no longer state land.

In total there are 39 buildings in the area, 18 on state land, 17 on private land and four straddling the line. Many of them were erected in the late 1990s, before the map was redrawn.

The court found that regardless of whether the homes were built on state land or private land, they were built illegally on land not zoned for housing.

The state said it is examining the possibility of legalizing the area and making it part of Kfar Tapuah, but it needs more time to examine the titles and maps.

The court gave the government six months to complete its investigations. It also gave the state time to legalize the 18 homes built on state land.

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