In the coming days, following the High Court of Justice’s order and the Israeli Government’s decision, thirty families living in the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El will be forced to leave their homes. It is yet unclear what will happen to the families that will be evicted, or what will happen to their homes. The homes were purchased legally; the purchasers received government grants and mortgages from banks. The reason they are being forced to leave their homes is because of two Arab plaintiffs who filed a petition to the Supreme Court claiming ownership of the land on which these homes were built. As the issue of land ownership is not debated in the Supreme Court, the hearing was transferred to the Jerusalem District Court; the opening session is scheduled for July 2012. The plaintiffs have yet to prove their ownership over the land, and yet the families living in these homes are being forced to leave.
Tazpit News Agency spoke with Vardina Biton, a resident of the Ulpana neighborhood, about what she faces in the future. Vardina, 30, mother of three, had lived in her home for the past six years. She and her husband initially came from northern Israel, and decided to live in Beit El after studying at the yeshiva and in schools in the vicinity. When they purchased their home they were not aware of any issues regarding the legal status of the land. Vardina says that when they decided to live in Beit El, they felt like emissaries, living in a part of Israel with strategic and historical importance.
Since the final decision to remove them from their homes, Vardina has been coping with mixed feelings and many uncertainties. She says she has not begun to pack, even though she stands to be evicted from her home in only a few days. “I have been primarily preparing myself mentally and emotionally, trying to contain the injustice that is being done to us,” she says. “I feel much pain and frustration. A person can do right and be right, and there are other solutions other then expelling us from our homes, and yet we must endure these wrongdoings. I am a 7th grade teacher. I witness brawls between my students, and see that the girls can come to a fair solution to the problem at hand. Somehow, the government failed to do likewise, proceeding with a discriminating solution instead.”
Police and right wing activists are bracing for possible violence during the removal of the Ulpana neighborhood residents from their homes. Various options to protest the expulsion have been suggested. Vardina is ambivalent regarding the pending battle the may be waged over the houses. She believes there should be a rabbinical leadership that should decide on the nature of the struggle. She says she can understand those who are talking about violent resistance. Many people are deeply pained by the court’s decision and by the government’s conduct, feeling that a great injustice is being committed. As for herself, she says she is not a violent person and has no desire to harm anyone. She does not know how she will react when the police knock on her door and demand that she leaves her home.
After the attempt to pass the “Regulation Law” in the Knesset failed, Vardina believes there are still better ways to resolve the current predicament. She explains that as of now, no legal ownership has been proven in a court of law. The land that the homes are built on has been purchased by the current residents. The alleged Arab owner claims the land was purchased from the wrong person. “No one had malevolent intent; no one intended to steal anyone’s land,” she states. However, the High Court of Justice ruled that the houses must be evacuated and demolished. Vardina says there are other plausible options: the land can be purchased from the alleged owner or the government can declare the land state owned and offer him compensation. She feels that the court ruled hurriedly, and that the government did not work hard enough to find a proper and just solution. “The fact that I live in Beit El doesn’t make me a second rate citizen. We serve the country and pay taxes. My husband fought in the IDF during The Second Lebanon War, just weeks after his wedding. It seems that there was not a real desire to save the homes, and therefore they did not work hard enough to find a solution.”
Vardina now has mixed feelings about the State of Israel. “Of course, I am happy we have the State of Israel, and it is clear to me that the Jewish Nation is where it should be, in a place that is good for it. On a personal level, I feel that the government is not properly addressing the issues at hand. I voted for this government, a right wing government. The knowledge that they are conducting themselves in this fashion is very difficult for me, especially when I know there are other possible solutions.”
Vardina does not know what the future holds for her. She knows that suggested solutions were decided in haste. There is some sort of vague solution to relocate them, but she is not sure if it’s a good solution. When she told her five-year-old son that they will have to move he burst into tears, not wanting to leave his home and friends.
“I haven’t done anything wrong; on the other hand, I don’t feel wretched. I am a happy person, and don’t want to categorize myself as someone miserable. I feel that in general, what is going to happen is wrong. On one hand, the alleged owner will not be able to use the land – the Ministry of Defense has already decided on that. So the houses will be destroyed for no purpose whatsoever. Anyhow, where has he been for the past twelve years since the houses have been built? I am having a very hard time accepting all this, and I don’t know how it’s all going to end. I am going through a process of mourning now, but it’s important for me to conserve my strength for the future. I will survive all of this”.
“The government tried to do right by everyone, but this is not justice, this is a discrimination against Jews in favor of the Arabs. I want to tell the government and the entire world – we are here to stay! Don’t disturb us in building our country!” Vardina concludes.
About the Author: Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.
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