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Foreign Journalists Visit Threatened Beit El Neighborhood

A group of foreign journalists visit the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El, meet with residents, and hear their story.
By Elad Benari & Yoni Kempinski
First Publish: 4/30/2012, 4:15 AM

Foreign journalists in Ulpana neighborhood
Foreign journalists in Ulpana neighborhood
Yoni Kempinski

A group of about 40 journalists from leading media outlets around the world visited the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El on Sunday.

The neighborhood is under a threat of being demolished under a Supreme Court ruling, which was issued after the left-wing group Yesh Din filed suit, claiming the buildings in the neighborhood have been built on land owned by a Palestinian Authority Arab man.

However, the question of who owns the land has not yet been resolved in court. Beit El residents were not heard in the initial case, and have appealed to a lower court, arguing that the land is in fact legally theirs.

On Sunday, the Supreme Court ruled that the demolition, which was scheduled for May 1, may be postponed by 60 days. State attorneys and the attorney representing the residents requested the deferral in hopes that the extra time will allow them to find a solution other than demolition.

Last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his senior ministers decided that the State Attorney's Office would approach the Supreme Court and ask for the demolition to be delayed. At the same time, according to the decision, a committee will be established to examine the legal status of the houses and their future.

Aryeh Green, head of Media Central, Honest Reporting who led the journalists on the tour, told Arutz Sheva that the reasoning behind bringing the foreign journalists to the neighborhood is to show them that it is a legitimate neighborhood of Beit El.

“This is making no political pronouncement as to whether it is or isn’t legal, legitimate, should or shouldn’t be dismantled,” emphasized Green. “That’s a question for the legal and the political system.”

He added that most foreign journalists have a misconception of what the Ulpana neighborhood really is, noting that most describe it as an outpost, which likely means they visualize the neighborhood as being in some outlying area and made up of a few caravans. The Ulpana neighborhood has apartments and homes and is situated well within the community.

“We felt it was important that they come and see for themselves and hear from [local residents],” said Green.

During the visit, the journalists heard from local residents who emphasized that the Israeli government built the entire infrastructure in the neighborhood, including roads, phone lines and electrical lines, because the government had recognized that the land was sold legally.

“Ten years later someone comes along, waving a piece of paper and saying, ‘It’s mine,’” Judy Simon, coordinator of Beit El Tourism, told the journalists. “It’s a pivotal case, because it’s something that could, G-d forbid, happen anywhere in Israel and then every homeowner is at risk.”

Simon added that the residents of Beit El have chosen not to reveal the name of the Arab man who sold the land, because of the Palestinian Authority law which states that any person who sells land to a Jew gets the death penalty.

“We could show [the proof of sale], but we won’t, because we value life,” she said. “That is the way it stands today: If a Palestinian sells land to a Jew, he’s got the death penalty. So we have protected the Palestinian who sold us the land because we value his life, perhaps more than his brothers do.”

The Hevron Arab who sold the Machpela House to Jews is in jail and has been sentenced to death by the Palestinian Authority.

Green said that he heard comments from the journalists who said the visit had truly changed their perspective on the situation.

“One leading journalist from America just said to me that these perspectives are so important,” he said, adding that the journalist had admitted that the issue was very complex and that he had found it very helpful to hear the story from the residents themselves.