Debate on Bill to Normalize Yesha Communities

A bill that would ban demolitions for communities over 4 years old with 20+ families will be discussed next week.

Gabe Kahn. ,

MK Orlev's news conference
MK Orlev's news conference
Yossi Zeliger

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday will discuss a bill proposed by Minister of Welfare and Social Services Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home) seeking to normalize the status of most Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of third-party petitions filed by left-wing NGOs seeking to destroy Israel's settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria by demanding the destruction of communities and neighborhoods they claim were built on privately owned Arab land.

The Justice Ministry, Civil Administration, and Supreme Court have maintained the exclusive remedy in these cases is the demolition of buildings on the disputed land irrespective of how long the community has existed, or how large it has grown. In many cases demolition orders have been issued for localities that have existed for many years, often where dozens of families reside.

Most of these communities – established in good faith – received recognition and assistance from government ministries that provided them with the standard array of services all communities in Israel receive.

Orlev's explanatory notes for the bill say it is intended to prevent the destruction of houses and communities that have stood for four years without any contact from the plaintiff who must dispute the land's ownership in a competent court by providing standard evidence to prove their claim. The proposed bill would apply to communities with twenty or more families.

"These communities should be the future in Judea and Samaria," Orlev said. "No threats of pointless demolitions should be made. The demolition of buildings and fields is contrary to morality and natural justice. Usually the plaintiff's do not present a shred of evidence and only made their claims after many years."

"In such cases there is a balance between the interests of the owner, who can be compensated with money or alternative land grants, and the public interest in avoiding the unnecessary destruction of settlements that were established in good faith and without knowledge it was privately owned land."

Orlev's bill comes as tensions in Israel over the destruction of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria have reached a zenith following a ruling by Israel's Supreme Court that all non-state lands in Judea and Samaria are presumptively privately-owned Arab lands. The ruling effectively gave the green light to execute demolition orders in locales even when those disputing land-ownership did not prove their claims in a competent court by normal evidentiary means.

Critics of the ruling say the Supreme Court, which does not hear evidentiary matters, were advancing a political agenda under the color of law due to their failure to order all such petitions be reviewed by a lower court competent to evaluate the claims based on their evidentiary value.

Recent demolitions carried out by the Civil Administration under the aegis of Defense Minister Ehud Barak come despite the government's tacit decision to attempt to find ways to normalize communities in Judea and Samaria facing demolition orders, due to strong pressure brought upon Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by coalition faction heads and the overwhelming majority of lawmakers in his own party.

On Monday it was reported that a group of 50 angry Jewish youths stormed the Ephraim Brigade headquarters after hearing such orders were to be carried out in the night. During the raid the youths clashed with soldiers and, according to security officials, hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at IDF vehicles.

Communal leaders and rabbis in Judea and Samaria have roundly condemned the incident as "shameful and a disgrace," but have also called on the government to stop using the IDF -- the people's army -- to execute internal, divisive political agendas that run counter to the principles on which Israel was founded.

Some leaders in Judea and Samaria have charged the government and media of blowing the riot at the Ephraim Brigade headquarters out of proportion – or of instigating the riot themselves via provocateurs.

The incident led Netanyahu to institute new security measures in Judea and Samaria targeting Jewish activists.