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Court moves closer to ordering illegal settlement houses razed

By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent
From Haaretz

The High Court of Justice Tuesday gave the state 30 days to explain why houses built illegally in the Matityahu East neighborhood of the Modi’in Ilit settlement should not be demolished.

Justices Aharon Barak, Eliezer Rivlin and Ayala Procaccia also ordered the state to explain why a criminal investigation should not be opened against those responsible for issuing the illegal building permits.

The order was issued against Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, GOC Central Command Yair Naveh, West Bank district police chief Yisrael Yitzhak, the Civil Administration, the planning commission for the territories and the local council of Modi’in Ilit. It was issued in response to a petition by Peace Now demanding a halt to illegal construction in the neighborhood, which was built on lands belonging to the villagers of Bil’in to the east.

The court also upheld an interim injunction barring continued construction both on houses built without permits and on those built with permits issued illegally. In addition, it rejected the state’s proposal that tenants whose houses have been completed be allowed to occupy them.

At a hearing a week ago, the justices suggested that the construction companies reimburse any tenants who had purchased apartments in the project. Some 750 housing units are currently under various stages of construction, out of about 3,000 units planned.

“The Matityahu East affair is the most extensive violation of planning laws in the West Bank that has been discovered to date,” Peace Now’s lawyer, Michael Sfard, said Tuesday night. “At Amona, we asked that nine houses be demolished. Here, we’re talking about close to 500. This will be a test of whether the State of Israel is capable of dealing with its offenders.”