Aryeh Laskar, a middle aged Jewish man with a salt-and-pepper, long beard, white shirt and black slacks, tells me he has lived in Ulpana Hill for ten years with his wife and their seven children. We spoke right before the start of a very large meeting of Likud’s Central Committee, assembled outside the 14 buildings of Ulpana Hill in Bet El, to show solidarity with the local residents.
“The town bought this land, it was legally purchased, we have all the documents,” he says, “and now some other Arab showed up, proving this land belongs to him. There appears to have been a dispute inside their family over who actually owned the land. And they got help from Peace Now, to come forward and say the land is theirs, so our homes would be evacuated and demolished.”
But this is not a simple case of Buyer Beware, where a home owner is penalized for his failure to perform due diligence. The state is involved, as well. The state created the infrastructure for the neighborhood and backed the mortgages.
The most recent apartment sale in the neighborhood, ground floor, 4 rooms and a yard, according to Laskar, went for NIS 800 thousand ($ 212,500). The High Court has decreed that 14 apartment buildings with roughly 50 apartments must be destroyed. At current market rates, then, the cost to the state in defaulted mortgages alone, never mind the cost of relocating about 250 people (more than 140 children live in the buildings), would come to $10 million.
Both Aryeh and his wife are teachers, both employed in local towns. Losing their home here would also mean two new unemployed Israelis and a new welfare case.
The fact that Israel’s Supreme Court and the Attorney General are prepared to endure these social and financial costs might suggest a kind of zeal one normally attributes to religious fanatics. Rather than pursuing a pragmatic, financial compensation to the claimant, as is normal in similar civil cases, both the high court and the AG appear hell bent on getting Justice.
I asked Ulpana residents Barbara Dorevitch and her daughter Judy Simon, who has six children of her own, what their options were should the bulldozers start arriving, come May 15.
“It can’t happen,” said Judy, emphatically. “If, God forbid, these buildings were to be destroyed, it would encourage other Arabs to come up and claim that land that was sold by other Arabs was actually theirs. They just did that for six families in Hebron.”
As usual, everything that’s wrong with Israel’s political/judiciary system comes to light in the most acute way in Judea and Samaria, as became apparent from the speeches and the occasional heckles at Sunday night’s Likud party assembly of solidarity with the residents of Ulpana Hill in Bet El, in the Benjamin region.
Among the assembled in Bet El were a few individuals who came adorned with orange-colored articles of clothing, reminders of Gush Katif. And there was the quiet old man who was tirelessly displaying his orange poster “We shall not forget – We shall not forgive,” with photographs of synagogues that were incinerated upon what was once euphemized as the “disengagement,” and nowadays has been dubbed the “expulsion.”
Although memorabilia of the 2005 shameful destruction of Gush Katif by a Jewish and quite right wing government were kept to a minimum, there might as well have been a giant banner of those burning synagogues, homes, grass lawns, orchards and hothouses, dangling from the pale, blue sky above the proceedings. Because at stake, and on the minds of all the political dignitaries who came to show their support, were not only the possibility of the destruction of a few apartment buildings, but the encroaching new phase in anti-settlement tactics: the creeping erosion, as Deputy Knesset Chairman, MK Danny Danon coined it, of the entire settlement endeavor.