Daily Israel Report

High Court to Beit El: Stop Building Even on Barren Land

Despite army's legal confiscation of land near a Beit El synagogue, High Court orders the Civil Administration to stop construction work there.

By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 1/25/2011, 1:19 PM / Last Update: 1/25/2011, 1:56 PM

Israel news photo

Despite the army's legal confiscation of land adjacent to a synagogue in Beit El, and in opposition to previous precedent, the High Court has ordered the Civil Administration to stop construction work there.

The land was officially confiscated by the IDF sometime around 1980, when the town of Beit El was in its beginning stages. Though the contested area was never built up until now, land around it was, and the land in question is now bordered by Jewish homes, a synagogue and a park.

The Arab landowner, in the knowledge that the land had been confiscated, has never made an attempt to claim it. Only now, when he was contacted by the radical left Israeli organization Yesh Din, did he turn to the courts, together with Yesh Din, demanding that the construction be halted.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, a member of the panel that heard the petition, said that the IDF justification for confiscating the land 30 years ago was no longer valid. Another judge, Chanan Meltzer, said that there must be no discrimination between Jews and Arabs in government prevention of illegal construction – though the construction in question was not deemed illegal until the court session itself.

The suit was brought against both the government and the town of Beit El. The court ordered the town of Beit El to declare that it would not connect the buildings to the town's electric and water infrastructures. This in itself need not deter the construction, as plenty of homes in Judea and Samaria – mainly Arab ones – are not officially connected to such infrastructures.

"Headlines make it seem as if Beit El went ahead and built on someone's private property," said one Beit El resident who lives near the construction. "But in truth, it is land that has been totally desolate for years and years, and which connects two Beit El neighborhoods, and which has long been under official army control – just like much of the land in Judea and Samaria.  It's clear that Yesh Din, like Peace Now in other similar cases, is just hitching a ride on the Arab landowner to do whatever it can to rid this area of Jews."

Attorney Akiva Sylvetsky, representing the municipality of Beit El, noted that the petition was not brought against the builder. He cited ten precedents – cases of illegal Arab construction – in which the court did not issue stop-work orders when the builder was not cited in the petition. Sylvetsky even cited a precedent in which no such orders were issued even though the Arab builder was cited. He also told the court that there is reason to believe  that the Arab who claimed the land is suspect as the will he brought the court seems to be  a forgery: it  is dated 1983 and  written on Palestinian Authority stationery, although the Palestinian Authority exists only since 1995.

Despite all this, the High Court issued a restraining order demanding that the Civil Administration stop work at the Beit El site.