Ofra, located in Samaria
Ofra, located in Samaria Israel News photo: Flash 90

One day after Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he would destroy more than two dozen hilltop communities in Judea and Samaria, he told the High Court that nine disputed Ofra homes would remain standing. Two left-wing groups, Yesh Din and B’Tselem, have petitioned in favor of Arabs who claim that the homes were built on their land.

The organizations previously failed in legal appeals to stop construction of the homes and prevent people from moving into their houses. The Defense Minister told the court that the buildings are within the community’s physical limits and therefore do not represent an expansion of the town north of Jerusalem.

He said he has rejected other requests for construction in other areas of Ofra, which he said lacks a clear map of its borders.

His actions represent a compromise stance towards the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria. Following two years of threatening to tear down hilltop communities, often called outposts, he ordered the demolition of the tiny community of Maoz Esther, one day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu returned from Washington after discussions with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Defense Minister Barak insisted that his subsequent announcement to tear down more communities was based on their being termed 'illegal' and has nothing do with American pressure for Israel to stop all building in Judea and Samaria.

The government applies the term 'illegal' to the 'outposts,' several of which have developed into full-fledged communities, because they were established after Israel agreed to an American demand not to build new communities in September, 2001.

In a separate court case involving Ofra, Arabs have filed a petition asking the High Court to order a halt to construction of a sewage purification plant near the town, claming the land is theirs.