Several clusters of illegal Arab homes are being built these days in the eastern part of Gush Etzion, near the settlements of Tekoa, Nokdim, and Herodion. At some point, Regavim movement monitors who are always on the hunt for illegal Arab construction noticed the construction start of an illegal school in an area between two of those clusters, Makor Rishon reported Friday (עתירה: המנהל האזרחי המציא נוהל שמונע הרס בנייה ערבית לא חוקית).
“The Palestinians figured out that they would not gain a state through peace agreements or intifadas, so they decided to establish a state through a sprawling settlement push across all of Judea and Samaria,” explained Eitan Melet, coordinator of Regavim in Judea and Samaria. “As part of this strategy, they picked the location of this specific school with precision, to create continuity of the construction sites involved.”
Melet realized that if the construction process progressed, and certainly if it is completed, the demolition of the structure would become an international media event because illegal or not, it’s a school. So he rushed to contact the Civil Administration, asking them to deal immediately with the illegal construction on either side of the school.
“The Palestinians rushed to apply for a construction permit, claiming that they wanted to regulate the school and the entire area,” Melet told Makor Rishon, and explained: “The law in Judea and Samaria says that once they have applied, all enforcement proceedings are suspended until it’s decided whether the application is approved or not.”
When the school construction continued, Regavim’s staff contacted the Civil Administration again to check whether they had given a permit to construct the illegal school. After several inquiries, they discovered that the permit request had been denied, but the Civil Administration continued to freeze the enforcement proceedings because the PA Arabs submitted a request to alter the TBA (City Building Plan) for land uses in the area.
“According to the law, filing a TBA request is not a reason to freeze the demolition enforcement proceedings, but it became clear to us that the Civil Administration had decided on their own to establish a procedure that nevertheless freezes the demolition enforcement proceedings until a decision is made regarding the TBA appeal – a process that can take four and five years, during which time, of course, the Palestinians continuing to build illegally,” Melet said. “We decided to petition this procedure.”
“Under Jordanian law in Judea and Samaria, anyone who receives a work stoppage order can apply for a building permit within 15 days, and if he has submitted such an application, the demolition proceedings are automatically frozen,” explained attorney Boaz Arazi who filed the Regavim petition. “This is the time frame, and once the request is denied, the stay of proceedings should end.”
On September 13, the High Court of Justice heard three consolidated cases filed by the Regavim Movement against the Ministry of Defense and the Civil Administration, regarding three separate instances of illegal construction and de facto annexation by the Palestinian Authority and its local authorities.
In each of the three cases, Regavim’s petition to the High Court sought to compel the Civil Administration to execute military legislation known as “The Order for Removal of New Structures,” an enforcement tool created by the defense establishment in 2018.
The “New Structures Order” was designed to cut through the legal and bureaucratic red tape that characterizes “standard procedures” in Judea and Samaria, where outdated Jordanian planning and construction codes remain in force. The antiquated, ineffective, and labyrinthine Jordanian regulations have been famously exploited by construction offenders and the Palestinian Authority in what is known as “Lawfare:” incessant legal and procedural appeals that upend law enforcement and set the system against itself – with the support and funding of foreign interests.
Over the past two years, Regavim has filed several administrative petitions to the Jerusalem District Court (which serves as the Court for Administrative Affairs), to compel the Ministry of Defense and the Civil Administration to enforce the “Order for Removal of News Structures.” In response to these petitions, the state’s representatives argued that this order does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court, and should be heard in the High Court of Justice (HCJ).
But when Regavim petitioned the HCJ regarding enforcement of the “New Structures Order” – the state argued that the petitions should be dismissed out of hand because an alternative legal remedy is available – namely, “standard procedural orders” arising from the Planning and Building Code; even though these alternative legal remedies have not been enforced, the state argued, the proper forum for hearing these cases is… The District Court.
The long and short of it is that the government’s enforcement arm is trying to dodge any and all cases involving its failure to issue or enforce the New Structures Order, whether in the District Court or the High Court of Justice.
The invention of the waiting procedure for TBA petitions has very broad implications, and in many ways, it creates a de facto path ensuring that illegal Arab structures in Area C in Judea and Samaria could almost never be destroyed.
“It should be understood that the discussion about the TBA, no matter what is decided, takes at least three or four years,” explained attorney Arazi. “Some of these TBA appeals have no chance at all of getting approval. Many times these are fictitious requests that are submitted, for example, by people who do not own the land at all, or in an area where there is no chance that the request will be approved.”
“The application has no chance, but the construction offenders rely on the initial hearing of the application to last a year, and when that application is rejected an appeal would be filed and another year will pass, and when that appeal is rejected an application will be submitted for a TBA alteration that should be rejected in two days but in reality would take another three to four years.”
And so, instead of dealing with the problem of an illegal construction when it’s just starting, the Civil Administration holds off for five or six years and even more, and when it tries to act on the demolition order, by then it faces clusters of homes with families and children – a hot potato with the world media looking on.