In partial victory for settlers, state backs bid to save 6 of 15 outpost homes

Proposal would see Netiv Ha’avot residents cut off ‘problematic parts’ of six homes jutting a few feet onto private Palestinian land

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

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

Responding to a High Court of Justice petition from the residents of the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost, the state said Monday that it supported a proposal by the settlers to save a portion of the 15 homes set to be demolished in March.

While none of the homes in the neighborhood on the outskirts of the Elazar settlement sits entirely on private Palestinian land, six of them do so for a matter of feet.

In their petition last week, for which the state 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 that were found to have crossed over onto private Palestinian land, thereby allowing the remainder of those buildings to stay intact.

While it largely agreed with the stances put forward by the outpost residents in their petition, the state said that they would be responsible for removing the “problematic parts” if the High Court rules in their favor on the matter.

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)

As for the nine additional homes set to be razed, the state said that it continues to seek alternative solutions, but that their presence jutting further onto private land cannot be addressed in the same fashion as the other six houses.

In a briefing with reporters last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that his office is preparing to evacuate the homes in accordance with the High Court decision. However, it is also looking to give the outpost residents an alternative plot of land in a “nearby area” that will allow their children to “remain in the same school system.”

In a Monday statement, hours after the response was published, the Netiv Ha’avot residents thanked the state for supporting their proposal. However, they lamented the fact that it still did not “prevent the unnecessary destruction of an additional nine houses.”

“The settlers’ request to the High Court of Justice to recognize the reduction in size of the houses does not correct the injustice and absurdity, but merely emphasizes it,” said Shlomo Ne’eman, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, where the illegal outpost is located.

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)

The Peace Now settlement watchdog responded harshly to the state’s position in a statement late Monday night, saying that it was “a blatant and conscious attempt to bring about a change in a final judgment”

The NGO added that the state’s response set a “dangerous precedent” which prioritized the settlers’ views over those of the “judges who set the original ruling.”

The High Court of Justice will be convening Wednesday to make a final decision on the future of the illegal outpost.

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 is 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 March 8, 2018.

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 demolished 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 demolished 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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