State asks court for 3-month delay in razing illegal outpost

Postponement of March 6 Netiv Ha’avot demolition would buy time to build temporary community for 15 families on adjacent hilltop

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

Border Police officers guard near tractors during preparations for the evacuation and demolition of the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost on February 7, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Border Police officers guard near tractors during preparations for the evacuation and demolition of the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost on February 7, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The state urged the High Court of Justice to delay its sanctioned demolition of the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost in the West Bank by three months, in a petition submitted Tuesday on behalf of the residents.

Presented 14 days ahead of the slated razing, the purpose of the appeal is to provide time for the construction of a caravan community approved by the government last month for the 15 families on an adjacent hilltop.

In addition, the delay would allow for the advancement of another plan that would grant post-facto building permits to seven of the 15 homes slated for demolition on the grounds that they sit only marginally on land that does not belong to the state.

If adopted, the plan would see the “problematic parts” of those seven homes sawed off, while the rest of the structure would be allowed to remain standing. This would mean that only eight homes would require complete demolition by security forces.

Peace Now activists protest in front of the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood in favor of the outpost’s court ordered demolition, on February 15, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The High Court petition was also accompanied by a letter signed by each of the families pledging “to evacuate the homes without resistance, without violence, and refrain from bringing demonstrators into [their] homes as much as [they] can.”

While she complied with the government’s request to sign the letter “out of responsibility to her children,” Netiv Ha’avot resident Rachel Bulvik called the measure “offensive.”

“We wouldn’t have been violent in the first place,” she told The Times of Israel, pointing out that what protesting youth do on the day of the evacuation is out of the residents’ control and that the letter does nothing to prevent that.

Upon submission of the petition, the 15 families released a joint statement explaining that they signed the letter to ensure that their 62 children “would not be left without a roof over their heads.”

They called on the government to legalize their entire outpost and advance the construction of another 350 homes in response to the demolition.

While they agreed to refrain from inviting demonstrators into their homes to obstruct the approaching demolition, hundreds of youth are still expected to descend on Netiv Ha’avot on the day of the evacuation.

Last month, the residents hosted roughly 1,000 youth for the Sabbath in an effort to recruit support ahead of the March razing. A staple at past demolitions of Israeli settlements, the younger protesters’ presence at such operations has frequently led to clashes with troops.

Using the attached letter as proof, the petition itself calls on the High Court to accept the delay in light of the “agreement” with the residents that would allow for a “peaceful” evacuation.

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 demolishment. (Courtesy)

The letter was similar to an agreement that residents of the illegal Amona outpost signed over a year ago, also pledging not to employ violence against security forces during their evacuation in February 2017.

While the residents themselves did not clash violently with soldiers during that evacuation, dozens of troops were injured by hundreds of youth who came to demonstrate against the demolition.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog called the state petition a “brazen request,” arguing that the High Court had given the government a year and half to prepare for the evacuation.

“Yet the government has done nothing to be prepared in time,” the NGO said in a statement.

(From L-R) Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, and deputy defense minister Eli Ben Dahan plant a tree during a ceremony at the Netiv Ha’avot outpost, on July 23, 2017. (Courtesy: Gush Etzion Regional Council)

On Monday, coalition leaders voted to approve a package of NIS 20 million ($5.68 million) in compensation for the 15 Netiv Ha’avot families. However, the funds cannot be transferred until the cabinet approves the measure.

On Sunday, the outpost residents met with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — both of the national religious Jewish Home party — who told the families that the cabinet was planning to advance a resolution to legalize the outpost.

For their part, the residents praised the Jewish Home ministers for taking the lead in reaching a solution for the outpost, which lies in the Etzion bloc, south of Jerusalem. However, the families clarified in a Sunday statement, “we are no longer satisfied with promises, and will not rest until we see actions on the ground.”

They have since announced the establishment of a protest tent outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem office, in which they will demand an immediate solution to prevent the evacuation as well as the construction of 350 homes in the Etzion bloc. The residents referred to the latter demand as a “proper Zionist response to the extreme leftist elements bringing about the destruction of homes.”

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

Last week, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing West Bank construction granted final approval for 15 temporary homes for the families whose homes are currently set to be razed on March 6. The caravans will be placed adjacent to the nearby Alon Shvut settlement, and will be allowed to stand for three years until a more permanent solution is reached for the 15 families.

If the High Court accepts the state’s Tuesday petition, the residents would ostensibly be able to move to the temporary homes immediately after the newly requested June 6 demolition date.

In September 2016, the High Court of Justice ordered the Netiv Ha’avot homes — considered a neighborhood of the Elazar settlement — razed after accepting the petition of a group of Palestinians who argued the homes had been partially built illegally on their land.

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