Jewish Home calls for legalizing Ofra settlement homes after terror attack

Coalition party and justice minister prod government to regulate status of hundreds of structures in central West Bank town that were built on private Palestinian land

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

A view of the Israeli settlement of Ofra in the central West Bank, with the Palestinian town of Ein Yabrud on the range behind it, on November 17, 2016. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
A view of the Israeli settlement of Ofra in the central West Bank, with the Palestinian town of Ein Yabrud on the range behind it, on November 17, 2016. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

The Jewish Home party called on Monday for the legalization of the Ofra settlement in response to the shooting attack that took place at a bus stop just outside the central West Bank community the night before, injuring seven people.

“The Jewish Home Party calls on the prime minister to immediately regulate the settlement of Ofra and grant it the status of a regular town in our country,” a statement from the right-wing coalition party said.

The national-religious faction said that the proper response to such terror attacks was “to strengthen settlements.” The party’s statement also claimed that a “draft legal opinion for legalizing Ofra is already ready,” though it declined The Times of Israel’s request to view the document.

The call came shortly after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party issued a similar appeal.

Israeli soldiers and police inspect the scene of a terror attack at the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Ofra in the West Bank, on December 9, 2018. (Ofer Meir/Flash90)

The Ofra settlement was established in 1975 on an abandoned Jordanian military base, with the approval of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who were prime minister and defense minister respectively at the time.

While the base itself sat on what is considered state land, the vast majority of the property on which the community now sits was built on land registered to private Palestinians by the Jordanians before 1967.

In 2007, the Peace Now settlement watchdog published official state documents proving that the government had allowed for the construction of hundreds of homes on land expropriated from Palestinians from the nearby village of Ein Yabroud.

The Palestinian landowners filed a number of appeals to the High Court of Justice against construction that began following the revelation of the documents. In response, Ofra residents accelerated the building, even receiving a green light from the town’s rabbi Avi Giser to do so on the Sabbath.

Israeli police forces arrive to evacuate protesters on February 28, 2017 in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, during an operation by Israeli forces to demolish nine buildings. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

In 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of those nine homes that went up in haste, despite stop-work orders by the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in the West Bank. Two years later, the ruling was carried out.

While the community of 3,500 managed to build nearly a hundred of its homes on the land deemed to belong to the state, roughly 500 other houses remain on private Palestinian land and therefore have not yet been legalized.

In February 2017, the Knesset passed the so-called Regulation Law, which would allow the state to expropriate private Palestinian land where illegal homes have been built, provided that they were established “in good faith” or had government support, and that the Palestinian owners receive 125 percent financial compensation for the land.

The legislation aimed to solve the legal troubles facing communities such as Ofra; however, it has since been frozen in High Court proceedings and most analysts have predicted that it will not stand, at least in its current form. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit declined to defend the legislation on the state’s behalf, arguing that it violated Palestinian rights.

Israeli security and medical personnel evacuate the injured after Ofra shooting attack, at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, December 9, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In the meantime, authorities have been working to adopt other legal measures to legalize Ofra as well as dozens of other illegal outposts in the West Bank.

The Jewish Home statement calling on the government — of which it is a member — to legalize Ofra, was echoed by faction members Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich hours after the Sunday night attack.

Yisrael Gantz, the new chairman of the Binyamin Regional Council where the attack took place, made the same demand and further called for the “immediate approval of thousands of housing units… in order to deepen our roots here.”

Seven people were injured when a passing Palestinian vehicle opened fire at a crowd of pedestrians waiting at the Ofra Junction bus stop around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. The manhunt for the terrorists, who sped away from the scene, was ongoing.

Israeli soldiers search for gunmen who opened fire at a bus stop outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra, injuring seven people, on December 9, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

A pregnant woman was critically wounded, and doctors were forced to perform an emergency delivery of the 21-year-old’s baby upon her arrival at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

The baby boy was delivered by Cesarean section in the 30th week of pregnancy, and was immediately transferred to the ward for premature babies. His condition was initially designated as “stable,” but doctors said it had deteriorated Monday morning.

The young mother — whose 22-year-old husband was also shot and lightly wounded in the attack —  was initially said to be “fighting for her life” after she suffered wounds to her upper body. On Monday morning the hospital said her condition had stabilized.

However, Professor Yonatan HaLevy, Shaare Zedek medical director, cautioned that both the mother and child “have a long way to go before they are out of danger.”

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