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.
The past few years have seen a house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood attack on the settlements, by small but well funded organizations such as Peace Now and Yesh Din. They advance their cause of targeting and bringing down the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria through a staggering onslaught of belated, often dubious lawsuits.
Typically, those suits are filed years after Jewish residents had paid in full for their property, or were given the land and financial support by the Ministry of Housing and government agencies. Suddenly, an allegedly rightful, Palestinian owner of a plot of land or a house appears, with a document from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah which confirms his claim.
MK Zeev Elkin, who is Chairman of the subcommittee for Judea and Samaria, put it bluntly when he spoke to the Likud Central Committee assembly in Ulpana Hill, just as a graceful April sun was setting over Tel Aviv in the distance.
“After many years in which people have been living in their homes, comes a Palestinian with a note from the Palestinian Authority, and says, It’s mine. Whoever sold you this land – it wasn’t theirs to sell. No one checked the note, the court deliberation isn’t over yet, but the AG already was rushing back to the Supreme Court saying, yes, this is private land, it must be evacuated.”
“Imagine what would happen here, if the AG wins this fight,” Elkin continued. “If a note from the PA suffices to declare a land privately owned, tomorrow this will take place everywhere else in JS. In Bet El, in Ma’ale Edumim, in Ariel – and it won’t stop in JS. Because in the eyes of the PA, Jerusalem, too, and Be’er Sheva, Jaffa and Haifa – they’ll give a note to cover them as well.”
“But even this is not the most crucial point of this debate,” Elkin emphasized. “Do the people rule this country, or is it ruled by a few clerks in the Ministry of the Judiciary. Can it be imagined that millions of Israeli citizens go to the polls to change directions, and they elect a nationalist government. Then the Knesset and the government ministers express clearly their will, making it inconceivable that this neighborhood be evacuated. And then the Prime Minister directs his clerks in the Ministry of the Judiciary to prevent the evacuation – and they still persist” in advancing the same evacuation. “The question is, who governs this country? Who is the premier and who is the adviser? Did the AG appoint himself Prime Minister? Is this the situation?”
“We’ve gathered here,” Elkin concluded, “to answer very clearly – no.”
“Today the process is that they don’t go to a court, but instead they begin with filing an appeal with the Supreme Court,” MK Danon told me.
According to Danon, as many as 9,000 Jewish homes are currently under attack, and to date the Right has been unable to generate an emphatic legal means of protecting future, gradual Gush Katif tragedies.
In civil court, most of those claims would have been thrown out because they were filed too late, or the veracity of the documents would be challenged. But Israel’s Supreme Court has been accepting such lawsuits by the cartload recently, and employing a significantly less rigorous examination of the facts of each case.
Add to that an AG’s office with deep cultural roots in Israel’s secularist, largely anti-settlement Left, and you’ll end up with a serious threat to continued Jewish life in Judea and Samaria.
This is how a Knesset with a significant right-wing, pro-settlement majority, and a government coalition whose majority also supports the settlements, and some even the outright annexation of Judea and Samaria, ends up capitulating to a kind of permanent, left-wing, anti-settlement rule.
Those issues of a miniscule, left-wing, secularist elite ruling over a vast majority of Jews who are traditional-to-religious, permeate in many other aspects of Israel’s society, but they find their most poignant expression in the debate over the future of the disputed territories.
And of all the poignant issues, the tense relationship between the courts and the legislative and the executive branches have been the most turbulent. In a country without a clear constitution, much of the judicial precedence is based more on a unilateral land grab on the part of the High Court, than on the will of the voter. Israel probably has the most activist Supreme Court, which is also anti-democratic, in that it becomes directly involved in policy matters, to the point where it simply erases government policy decisions to enforce its own.
Like MK Danon, MK Miri Regev, Chairperson of the subcommittee for the Outlying Areas, promised that this state of affairs would be taken care of not after the next elections, but in the current Knesset session, with the Settlements Regulation Act.
“We’ll present only two bills before the coming Knesset session,” Regev said. “One – the enforcement of Israeli law on all the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, a bill which I will be presenting May 14 at the ministers’ Committee; Two – the Regulation Act: wherever we built, we do not destroy. Should a Palestinian come and prove the land belongs to him – we will compensate him, as we would everywhere else in Israel.”
“The Supreme Court only reaches those decisions” to evacuate areas within long standing Jewish settlements, “when policy is unclear. Wherever the policy is clear – the court doesn’t get involved.”
It is possible that this pushback will prove too much for Defense Minister Ehud Barak and for the AG, and the Ulpana Hill will be spared. But, short of passage of the dual legislation MK Regev promised the crowd, the war on the settlements will continue full on.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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