The community of Ofra
The community of OfraIsrael News photo: Flash 90

Defense Minister Ehud Barak will tell the High Court he has decided to stop all building in Ofra but recognize all houses and remove all legal questions while not destroying any houses in dispute, the Hebrew-language daily Yisrael HaYom (Israel Today) reported Monday morning. Arabs, with the support of the Peace Now movement, have asked the court to order the destruction of nine houses that they say are on land they own.

The Defense Minster will explain that his suggestion will prevent a confrontation with Ofra, which has grown to a large town of several hundred families from only 70 families 25 years ago. Considered one of the flagship Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, it is located on Highway 60 in northern Samaria and approximately 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north of Jerusalem.

The newspaper said that the building freeze, if put into effect, will affect 24 houses that already are under construction, but Ofra Rabbi Avi Gissar told Israel National News that he does not know of any homes that are currently being built in Ofra.

Defense Minister Barak said his proposal will preclude destruction of nine houses that opponents to a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria claim are built on non-government land.

Barak said his proposal will preclude destruction of nine houses that opponents to a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria claim are built on non-government land.

Rabbi Gissar said he backs the Defense Minister’s idea, despite the building freeze, because it would result in a military order that in effect eliminates all legal questions concerning previous construction of homes.

He said the government has to settle the problem of legal questions and that the military order would define the borders of Ofra and include all existing homes. He said that the building freeze can be discussed in the future and whether it applies to the entire community or only to land that has been disputed by Peace Now and Arabs.

Kadima Knesset Member Chaim Ramon, when he served as Deputy Prime Minister in the previous government, claimed that virtually all of the homes in Ofra were built on Arab land.

But Binyamin Regional Council Head Pinchas Wallerstein says that Ofra was established on state-owned land. According to Wallerstein, Ofra was erected in 1975 as a work camp with the authorization of then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres in the government of Yitzchak Rabin. The land belonged to the government and formerly was used as a military camp by Jordan when it occupied Judea and Samaria between 1947 and 1967.