High Court petitioned to order demolition of outpost founded by US-sanctioned settler

Appeal argues establishment of illegal farming outpost precipitated severe harassment of local Palestinians, leading them to abandon the area

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Radical settler activist Neriya Ben Pazi pictured with his family at his illegal farming outpost HaMahoch in the West Bank before he was issued with a restraining order by the IDF in December 2023 banning him from the West Bank for three months. (Courtesy: Honenu legal aid organization)
Radical settler activist Neriya Ben Pazi pictured with his family at his illegal farming outpost HaMahoch in the West Bank before he was issued with a restraining order by the IDF in December 2023 banning him from the West Bank for three months. (Courtesy: Honenu legal aid organization)

A petition filed on Wednesday to the High Court of Justice asks the court to order the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration to evacuate and demolish an illegal West Bank outpost established by extremist settler activist Neriya Ben Pazi, who was recently sanctioned by the United States.

The Torat Tzedek organization, which filed the petition along with five Palestinian residents of the West Bank living close to Ben Pazi’s HaMahoch farming outpost, pointed to the numerous allegations of harassment and persecution by Ben Pazi and his associates against local Palestinians, and argued that state authorities have a duty to protect these residents by putting the demolition of the outpost at the top of their priorities.

The petition also requests that the High Court order the IDF and the Civil Administration to establish a principle whereby when an illegal outpost becomes a staging post for public order disturbances and friction between Israeli and Palestinian communities, it should make the demolition of that outpost a high priority for enforcement agencies.

The High Court on Wednesday night ordered the IDF, the Civil Administration and Ben Pazi to file their initial responses to the request for an interim order against the outpost by April 3.

Ben Pazi was one of three radical settler activists who was sanctioned by the US last week. The State Department sanctions order accused Ben Pazi of having “expelled Palestinian shepherds from hundreds of acres of land,” and accused him of having “attacked Palestinians near the village of Wadi as-Seeq” in August last year.

Ben Pazi was issued with a restraining order by the IDF in December, banning him from being present in the West Bank, outside of the city of Ariel, for three months due to his hostile actions against local Palestinians.

Objects are seen scattered across the West Bank village of Wadi al Seeq more than a week after it was attacked by Israeli settlers, October 24, 2023. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

In its petition, Torat Tzedek noted that HaMahoch Farm was established approximately one year ago in an area east of Ramallah by Ben Pazi and other radical settler activists.

“These settlers have constantly and daily attacked and harassed Palestinian residents who use private Palestinian lands in the area, harming them, their animals and their property, destroying trees and vegetation, and causing them to abandon the area after decades in which these territories were cultivated and used by Palestinians,” the petition alleged.

“Even after the departure, the settlers continue to harass and loot the property of the Palestinians, to invade the private lands and prevent the return of the Palestinians to the area.”

The petition also points out that the Civil Administration has itself created a criteria list for prioritizing the demolition of illegal structures, which includes “structures that represent a danger to the security of a region or to public peace, or to public order, or [when] demolition orders [have been issued] for buildings serving as a warehouse for actions creating such a danger.”

In May 2023, Kan news reported that the Civil Administration had begun action to demolish Ben Pazi’s farming outpost, but that it had been halted as the operation was being carried out through intervention from Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister within the Defense Ministry and has authority in the Civil Administration.

Following heightened harassment in the aftermath of the October 7 atrocities perpetrated by Hamas, residents of the Palestinian Bedouin hamlet of Wadi as-Seeq, which lies close to Ben Pazi’s outpost, abandoned their homes, and evacuated the site by the middle of October.

On October 12, a group of Israeli soldiers and local settlers assaulted a Wadi as-Seeq resident and two Palestinian activists from Ramallah who had gone to the dwelling to help residents pack up their belongings and leave, according to a report by Haaretz.

The Haaretz report cited both Palestinian residents of the hamlet and Israeli activists who were there that day as having seen Ben Pazi in the dwelling at the time.

US-born Israeli Reform rabbi Arik Ascherman helps Palestinians during the olive harvest at a grove outside Ramallah in the West Bank on November 9, 2023. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the director of Torat Tzedek, who has had numerous encounters with Ben Pazi, accused him of being responsible for clearing Palestinians out of large areas in recent years.

“He will talk about being neighbors with the Palestinians, but it’s all cover for his ideological plans to do everything possible to clean a whole swath of land between the Alon Road and the Jordan Valley of Palestinian presence,” said Ascherman, a veteran campaigner for Palestinian civil rights.

“Because of him and the series of outposts he has set up since 2019, there are thousands of dunams of land where Bedouin who’ve lived there for 40 years are no longer there.”

“What is new about this petition is that it challenges the standard defense by the state that it carries out the demolition of illegal structures according to a [pre-determined] timetable,” he added.

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