translated from the Hebrew orginal by Rann Bar-On
The [Israeli] state prosecutor is singing from two hymn sheets: it submitted a document to the High Court condemning illegal construction in Modi’in Ilit, but is also asking to legalize it to ease the lives of residents.
by Efrat Forsher, November 2nd
Ignoring the High Court
Despite a court order that expressly forbids the continuation of illegal construction in the Matityahu East neighborhood in Modi’in Ilit, and at the height of a criminal investigation, an access road was suddenly opened up connecting some of the houses in the neighborhood to the main road leading to the city. The state prosecutor explained to the High Court that it sees these illegal acts in a severe light, as they ignored an explicit court order. However, in the same breath and totally in opposition to its stated position, the state prosecutor asked the judges to approve the construction for humanitarian reasons.
The High Court is currently debating a motion filed by the ‘Peace Now’ movement following an investigation by ‘B’tselem’ and ‘Ba’Makom’ that exposed the existence of plans for the expansion of the ultra-orthodox settlement Modi’in Ilit on private Palestinian land. The motion asks the High Court to cancel the plans, including the construction of 3000 residence units.
According to the appelants, the land was expropriated from the residents of [Palestinian village] Bil’in, and the work began without permits being issued. When the motion was filed, 750 residence units had already been built, some of which were occupied.
Two days after the motion was filed, the High Court issued an order forbidding the continuation of construction in the neighborhood, the occupation of the residence units and the continuation of sales. The momentum of construction was halted and the residence units were left standing bare at various stages of construction, with the exception of around eighty that were previously occupied by families.
The Court Order was Scaled Down – and Broken
Later on, the state prosecutor admitted that the construction plans hadn’t been approved. The national police unit for the investigation of fraud is now conducting a criminal investigation into the suspected illegal construction.
After the motions were filed, the planners made several changes to the plan and refiled it. This time, they designated five enclaves of private land belonging to Palestinian residents of Bil’in. It was stated that in all of those areas where construction had previously taken place, the land will be returned to its former state, the areas will be fenced off and will be covered in soil.
In July the High Court scaled down its order so that work can begin. The High Planning Council in the Area of Judea and Samaria also gave the companies ‘Green Park’ and ‘Green Mount’, the partners in the project, permission to act. As part of the works, the enclaves were fenced off
and the roads crossing them that lead to the populated area, Hetziva B, were destroyed.
However, something else also happened. Despite the High Court order, another road was prepared last month, running from the populated area and connecting to the road to the city of Modi’in Ilit. To build this road, gravel was removed, potholes blocked up, the soil was compacted and infrastructure prepared for the paving of the road, all of which will pass through the ‘disputed area’.
A Request for ‘Temporary Approval’
Employees of the Civilian Administration on a tour of the area were surprised to see construction equipment working on the road and ordered an immediate halt to the work.
In a document the state prosecutor filed last week with the High Court, it states that construction and development were carried out against the court order, the construction permits and the plan, and emphasizes the gravity of these acts. In the same breath, the state prosecutor requests ‘temporary approval’ of the bypass road, justifying this by saying that ‘humanitarian concerns’ have arisen. It argues that the fencing-off of the enclaves has cut off access for the resident population that due to its socio-economic situation relies almost entirely on public transport.
At the moment, everyone is waiting for the High Court to decide in the matter. The residents of the neighborhood are hoping that the High Court will approve the road and will rescue them from the isolation that was imposed on them. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are hoping that the enclaves, which they say were stolen from them, will be returned to their owners.
The Justice Ministry responded that “the state believes that the residents of the populated buildings in the Matityahu East neighborhood have no connection to the illegal construction carried out by the construction companies. Since the court allowed the continued residence of the populated buildings, and the only means of access of public and emergency vehicles to the populated area was cut off, an impossible situation was created that is impossible to ignore.”
“The Only Means of Access was Cut Off”
Additionally it was written that “the state has no choice but to approve the completion of the construction of the access road within the appropriate legal framework as suggested by the state in its response to the High Court. We emphasize that this does not lessen the gravity of the acts carried out on the land.”
Yariv Openheimer, the general secretary of ‘Peace Now’ attacked the conduct of the state prosecutor and said that “the prosecutor is compounding crime upon crime and is attempting to approve illegal construction. In doing so, it is turning the High Court decision into a sad joke. The state must act against those who break the law, not cooperate with them.”
The ‘Green Park’ and ‘Green Mount’ companies who carried out the construction stated that the residents opposed the destruction of their only means of access to the populated area that passed through the third enclave, in part using physical obstructions.
Representatives of the families conducted negotiations with the construction company and agreed that the possibility of a temporary access road be looked in to as an interim solution: “the approval of the road was done without malice, and without violating any judicial order. Construction was halted the moment the civilian administration ordered it.”
The Modi’in Ilit local council did not respond to the matter prior to the handing down of the High Court verdict.
See also these previous stories on the ISM website: