Op-Ed: Bet El’s Ulpana Hill: Outrage and a Sane Plan of Action
Baruch GordonThe writer, founder and former manager of the Arutz Sheva website, authors the blog Baruch's Breeze on the site. An IDF veteran who made aliya from Memphis, Tenn., he is Dir. of Development and PR for the IDF Preparatory Academy in Beit El and the Beit El Yeshiva Center as well as director of BetElTours.com which offers countrywide tours of Israel. He and his family live in Beit El.
I am outraged to the core by the recent Israeli High Court decision to demolish the homes of thirty Jewish families in Bet El’s Ulpana Neighborhood which were built on land purchased from an Arab.
I hunger fasted for the four days leading up to the June 6 Knesset vote on the Arrangements Bill that, had it passed, would have resolved the issue in a just way through legislation.
The facts and background of this case are presented in detail in a separate article being published alongside this one entitled: Bet El’s Ulpana Neighborhood: The Background and Facts.
Why I believe the Supreme Court Decision is Not Just
1) The High Court is rushing to demolish these 30 apartment units before the Jerusalem District Court has determined who the real owners are. You heard correctly. In the ongoing Civilian Case #36209-09-11, the lower court may yet determine that Bet El Institutions are the rightful owners. It will likely take some two years for the lower court to review the evidence and issue its ruling.
2) In 2000, Bet El Institutions, under the leadership of Rabbi Zalman Melamed and Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz, negotiated with the Arab land owner alongside their respective attorneys, and paid Ibrahim Judah Mustafa Hasan a large sum of money to legally purchase the 7.4 acres (30 dunams) in accordance with Israeli law. Even if Bet El erred (which the lower court has not yet determined) and purchased the land from the wrong man, once the apartment buildings are built, it is commonplace in legal proceedings to compensate the rightful owner, and not demolish the homes.
3) The case for compensation instead of demolition is strengthened when considering that the Arabs who later claimed to be the owners stood silent for 7 complete years while Bet El built and populated the Ulpana neighborhood on “their” land. They took no legal action even though the construction is in clear view with the naked eye from their homes in the neighboring Arab village.
4) The case for compensation is strengthened when considering that a law exists in pre-1967 Israel which forbids destruction of buildings in such a scenario and dictates that the court should determine who should compensate and who should be compensated. While a Knesset bill is required to extend the that law to Judea and Samaria, the law’s very existence is testimony to its being the just solution.
5) The case for compensation is further strengthened when considering that the Arabs who claim the land will never derive benefit from it. I would have more sympathy for the High Court ruling if the Arabs who filed suit had intentions to build a bowling alley there, establish a Halal meat stand, or build a Kassam rocket factory. But, the land will sit barren as it has been for centuries, by order of the IDF, since it would be a security breach to allow the Arabs access to the middle of a Jewish town.
6) I am further outraged by the fact that the Israeli High Court justices have usurped exaggerated power over the elected officials of the State of Israel who asked the court to reconsider their position. The court responded saying, “No, we will not allow you to rethink your position. You, the government, said to demolish the homes, and we, the court, have determined that to be your final position even though you think otherwise.” US Legal Expert Robert Bork has called the Israeli Supreme Court “the greatest threat to democracy in Israel,” because of its activist policy of usurping power over the executive branch.
7) I am outraged that the State Prosecution misrepresented the government position in its presentation to the court. I am disappointed that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not have the strength to call the prosecution to task or simply replace them.
8) Many lands were distributed by King Abdullah of Jordan (grandfather of Abdullah 2) to Arabs whom he rewarded for their loyalty. These lands were not purchased and often never used. Such is the case with the 7.4 acres of the Ulpana Hill. It is rocky terrain and was never used. Would it not be just for these lands which were distributed for free by the Jordanian (and earlier by the Turkish) ruler to revert back to being state-owned lands under Israeli rule?
9) Bet El Mayor Moshe Rosenbaum said that his personal friend, the Mayor of Abu Gosh (an Israeli Arab town near Jerusalem) told him that there is not one legally-built home amongst his entire constituency. So Mr. Rosenbaum suggests that if the court wishes to demolish illegally-built homes, why not start in chronological order with the thousands of Arab homes that were determined illegal years ago. Why start with these five Jewish apartment buildings in Bet El?
The Plan to Save the Ulpana Homes
I am outraged, but I am not broken. We are amidst a major struggle and we have good chances of winning. Here is the game plan.