Illegal construction on IDF Training Ground 918

This article first appeared on the JNS Wire.

Through incessant legal and procedural appeals, the PA has upended Israeli law enforcement and set the system against itself, creating facts on the ground and laying the foundations of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel.

It’s no secret that the system of law in force in Judea and Samaria is far from ideal: In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the Israeli government balked.

Rather than applying Israeli law to the territory liberated in 1967 — territory that had always been within the internationally recognized borders of the Jewish homeland—Israel chose instead to “temporarily” maintain the existing legal framework. Despite the fact that Jordan’s invasion, occupation and annexation of Judea and Samaria (the areas that it then began to refer to as “the West Bank” as a means of justifying its presence there) were illegal, and were never recognized by the international community, Israel deemed it more prudent not to act on its very solid and exclusive claims to the historic heartland of Israel.

Instead, it left the territory to the mercy of a hodgepodge of legal relics, pasted together with a smattering of military orders, that has continued to hold sway for more than half a century — longer than the Jordanian occupation and the British Mandate combined.

It’s no secret that this outmoded and convoluted system is a gold mine for construction offenders. Nor is it a secret that the Palestinian Authority and its generous European supporters have perfected the art of using this “system” to their advantage.

Antiquated, ineffective and labyrinthine Jordanian regulations have been famously exploited in what is known as “lawfare”: Through incessant legal and procedural appeals, the PA has upended Israeli law enforcement and set the system against itself, creating facts on the ground that are re-drawing the map and laying the foundations of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel.

Over the past two years, Regavim has filed a number of administrative petitions in the Jerusalem District Court (which serves as the Court for Administrative Affairs) against the Ministry of Defense and the Civil Administration, regarding instances of illegal construction and de facto annexation by the P.A. and its local authorities. Specifically, Regavim’s petitions sought the implementation and execution of the “Order for Removal of New Structures,” military legislation created by the defense establishment in 2018 to cut through the legal and bureaucratic red tape that characterizes “standard enforcement procedures” in Judea and Samaria, the legal quicksand that has made law enforcement virtually non-existent.

Again and again, the state’s lawyers argued for dismissal of Regavim’s petitions on jurisdictional grounds: The New Structures Order, they claimed, does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court, and should be heard in the High Court of Justice (HCJ).

But when Regavim petitioned the HCJ to compel the state to enforce the “New Structures Order,” the government’s lawyers argued that the petitions should be dismissed out of hand, because an alternative legal remedy is available — namely, “standard enforcement procedures” arising from the Planning and Construction Code. Even though these alternative legal remedies have not been enforced, the state argued, the proper forum for hearing these cases is … the District Court.

The long and short of it is that the government’s enforcement arm is trying to dodge any and all cases involving its failure to enforce the law — either under the New Structures Order or under the Jordanian Planning and Construction Code, whether in the District Court or in the HCJ.

Avi Segal, Regavim’s attorney, explained: “At issue is a broader question that goes beyond the individual cases. The government is shirking its responsibility to enforce the law. This is a deliberate attempt to create a legal ‘Catch 22’ that will neuter the law and empty it of all meaning, while at the same time limiting the public’s ability to scrutinize and evaluate the state’s continued inaction before a court of law — whatever court that may be.”

In the HCJ hearing on Sept. 13, Justices Anat Baron, Yael Vilner and Ofer Grosskopf had some very pointed criticism for the State Attorney. The justices required the government to provide answers, rather than hiding behind procedural cat-and-mouse jurisdictional arguments.

The court’s decision is quite clear: The state will not be allowed to continue to duck the questions raised by Regavim’s petitions, nor will it be allowed to continue to use the “Catch 22” of jurisdiction to avoid enforcing the law. The state was required to submit, within 60 days, substantive arguments regarding its failure to enact the “Removal of New Structures Order” in these cases.

Furthermore, the state was required to submit, within 60 days, an update on its progress towards amending the “Removal of New Structures Order,” so that the question of jurisdiction is clarified once and for all.

Perhaps this will go down in history as the day that the government was forced to own up to its failure to protect Israel’s interests in Judea and Samaria, and the day that the Israeli version of “Catch 22” began to unravel.

The illegal outpost of Khan al Ahmar; Route 1 can be seen in the background

The Regavim Movement reacted with concern to the state’s response in the Khan al Ahmar case, which was submitted to the High Court this evening.

The government requested an additional six month delay of the deadline to submit its official position to the court in the matter of the illegal outpost on Route 1 slated for demolition over a decade ago. During this additional half-year period, the state intends to submit a confidential document to the court detailing all the considerations that impact the enforcement of demolition orders at the site.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, sharply criticized the state’s response, and the conduct of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“From the first day of the current government’s term, we have stressed that deeds, not words, are what count,” Deutsch said. “Today it has become clear that contrary to its oft-repeated declarations, this government is continuing along the dangerous trajectory set by its predecessor, conducting its law enforcement system according to the whims of foreign governments.”

“The root of anarchy is selective, preferential law enforcement. No sector or segment of the population should enjoy immunity from law enforcement because of international pressure while the law is enforced against other sectors.”

Regavim noted that in earlier responses to the High Court, the state explained that law enforcement at Khan al Ahmar would be postponed for fear that this would trigger proceedings in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

“This conduct broadcasts a very problematic message to the world, intimating that the State of Israel is a guest in this territory when in fact Judea and Samaria have been under internationally-recognized Israeli jurisdiction for a longer period of time than the British Mandate and the Jordanian occupation combined,” noted Deutsch.

“The time has come for the State of Israel to exercise its rights to this territory, and to behave in a manner befitting the sovereign body responsible for law enforcement in the area according to international law and in accordance with the historic right of the State of Israel to the territories of Judea and Samaria.”

Illegal construction has plagued the area of Yakir, an Israeli community in Samaria, and the junction near its entrance. We know about it all too well, as does the Civil Administration. Down the years, shops have been built illegally, one after another, next to the main road, leading to traffic accidents going in and out of the junction.

In recent weeks, we noticed that Arab residents from nearby towns began building another structure without permits. Not only is the structure in Area C, the section of Judea and Samaria under full Israeli jurisdiction, it’s also in a ‘no-construction zone’, where construction of all sorts is not allowed.

But this isn’t about one structure. Over three years ago, we approached the Civil Administration a number of times about the widespread phenomenon of illegal businesses at the junction, and we even went to the High Court of Justice. Unfortunately, the High Court decided not to intervene in the CA’s decisions, and no proper enforcement was carried out on the ground. Occasionally, there were minor demolitions, but the shops quickly re-opened.

A drone image of the junction near Yakir in Samaria

It’s safe to say that the Civil Administration hasn’t managed to create enough of a deterrent against illegal construction in the area. Construction criminals have added more and more structures, in total disregard of the CA and the Israeli authorities.

Now, we’ve headed back to the Civil Administration – this time regarding the new structure. We’ve demanded the use of an “Order for Demolition of New Structures”, as per legislation from 2018 that was approved by the High Court in recent rulings. The legislation empowers the demolition of new, illegal structures in Judea and Samaria within 96 hours.

We’ve yet to receive an answer from the CA. This case will test whether the CA turns a blind eye to law enforcement even in such extreme and dangerous circumstances.

We’ll keep you posted.

High Court’s decision to allow the State an extension until 5 September

This afternoon (Wednesday) the High Court of Justice granted the government yet another extension, requiring a response to Regavim’s petition by 5 September 2021 – but stressed that this would be the last time.

The most recent round in the Khan al Ahmar case – the sixth petition by the Regavim Movement demanding the evacuation of the illegal squatters’ camp – follows more than a decade of legal ping-pong.

In 2018, the Israeli government gave a commitment to the High Court that Khan al Ahmar would be evacuated, but since that time the state has requested a number of extensions, citing a virtual laundry list of excuses.

Last week, the state’s lawyer requested yet another delay, claiming that the formation of a new government requires a re-evaluation of government policy regarding the illegal encampment on the Route 1 highway. This time, it appears that the High Court is losing patience; today’s decision granted a short extension but made it clear that this would be the last such delay.

“Like us, the High Court of Justice is fed up with the government’s “theater of the absurd,” said Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim. “The government’s ineffectual – even helpless – posture in the face of the illegal construction at Khan al Ahmar is emblematic of its weak-kneed stance against the Palestinian Authority’s strategic takeover of the open spaces of Judea and Samaria. We are gratified that even the High Court of Justice has grown weary of the government’s failure to enforce the law, to maintain order in areas under its jurisdiction, and to protect Israel’s national interests.”

Khan al Ahmar
Illegal outpost of Khan al Ahmar in the E1 Region, east of Jerusalem

Following Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s announcement today (Sunday) that a formal request has been made to postpone the evacuation of Khan al Ahmar, Regavim calls upon Prime Minister Bennett: Pull yourself together and demonstrate who is really the head of this government. Evacuate Khan al Ahmar today.

Did someone say “government of change?”

In all of its recent campaigns, the Yemina Party and Prime Minister Bennett explained that Netanyahu had to be replaced in order to fight the Palestinian Authority’s takeover of Area C, to stop the loss of state land in the Negev to Bedouin squatters, to restore the rule of law to the Galilee, the Negev and Israel’s mixed cities – and yes, to evacuate the illegal outpost known as Khan al Ahmar.

The fact that Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid chose to release a media announcement specifically on Tisha B’Av, notifying the public that a request has been made to once again postpone the evacuation of the illegal encampment on Route 1 – despite the fact that the state’s attorney submitted a response to Regavim’s High Court of Justice petition last week, leaves little room for doubt: Lapid’s “political spin” – at Yemina’s expense –  is intended to prevent Bennett from  actually carrying out any of his campaign promises and political commitments -in the Negev, in the Galilee, and in Khan al Ahmar.

Bennett, it’s time to come to your senses and demonstrate that you are actually Prime Minister. Evacuate Khan al Ahmar today.

Roadside at Khan al Ahmar, taken from Route 1 on the way to Jerusalem
Illegal construction in Duma, not far from Shechem

We’ve often mentioned the “Order for Demolition of New Structures” – legislation from 2018 that was approved by the High Court in recent rulings. On paper, the legislation empowers the demolition of new, illegal structures in Judea and Samaria within 96 hours.

However, since the legislation was passed, the Civil Administration has rarely used the enforcement tool – despite the widespread problem of mass illegal construction.

Regavim has filed a number of District Court petitions to force the Civil Administration to apply the legislation. In these court hearings, State Attorney representatives explained that the District Court has no right to judge cases involving the “Order for Demolition of New Structures”, and that these cases must go to the High Court of Justice.

So we acted in line with this standpoint, and recently we petitioned the High Court about the huge take-over of land in the Arab village of Duma. We demanded that the High Court judges instruct the Civil Administration to issue the Order.

But now the State Attorney representatives have asked to reject our petition on the basis that the authority to hear cases lies with… the District Court!

We’re confused. One moment, the State Attorney says that these cases must be heard in the High Court; the next moment, they say it’s the District Court.

As you probably assumed, while the Courts play a game of ping-pong, the residents of Duma continue their charge toward more land grabs. Recently, they even fully paved a new “road” without permission, as part of the #BattleforAreaC.

Regavim has submitted a harsh response to the Court, calling for the judiciary not to allow the Civil Administration and the State Attorney’s Office to turn the rule of law into a joke. We’ve demanded that the High Court of Justice uses its power and authority to instruct the CA to put an immediate halt to illegal construction projects in Duma.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty

Illegal structure near Duma
Up close: The illegal school next to the Herodion

For over three years, Regavim has been involved in a legal battle over an illegal school built right next to the Herodion, probably one of Israel’s most important historical sites.  

Back in 2018, we petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Civil Administration as the new school was allowed to spring up without permits. A demolition order had been issued, but the Civil Administration took no steps to enforce it. Our petition was rejected because the State had reached an agreement with the construction criminal whereby he would submit a permit request to the Planning and Authorization Subcommittee.    

After his request was dismissed, he petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to protest the decision. The Court issued a temporary order to instruct that until a different decision is reached in this case, the Civil Administration would not take enforcement steps against the structure.    

Since our 2018 petition was rejected, we consistently questioned the Civil Administration to clarify where the school’s planning and administrative procedures stood. Occasionally, we received partial updates about the legal status of the school.    

In March this year, the Civil Administration responded that indeed the permit request submitted by the construction criminal was rejected, yet they are unable to tear down the school because of the temporary order from the District Court.    

However, the Civil Administration is simply not telling the truth.    

We checked and found that the construction criminal’s petition had already been dismissed, along with the temporary order that had been cancelled, ten days before the Civil Administration’s response. It turns out that there was no legal obstacle in the way of exercising the demolition orders! The Civil Administration didn’t mention this important fact, nor did it take any practical action.    

Now, with legal procedures exhausted, we demand that the Civil Administration act immediately to carry out the demolition order against the school – which has expanded over the last year.    

The Civil Administration must prove that it is committed to the rule of law and to the protection of important heritage sites that belong to the State of Israel. No more excuses!

Following a petition we filed to the High Court of Justice against the Civil Administration, an illegal structure at an archaeological site in Samaria was removed. The CA was also charged with the expenses of the legal process.

A few months ago, we noticed an Arab invasion of Israeli state land at Khirbet Khurkosh, an archaeological site near the city of Ariel in Samaria.

Regavim alerted the authorities six (!) times to enforce the law, but work continued at the site – as part of the #BattleforAreaC. We petitioned the High Court to instruct the authorities to implement legislation from 2018 regarding the demolition of new structures.

During the court hearing, the Civil Administration told the judges that the structure’s owner, Falastin Musa Ahmad Abu Eid, received an interim order from the High Court that froze the enforcement process. However, the CA officials promised that once the interim order would expire, the new legislation would be applied in this case.

Despite this, and despite the Court fining the CA (essentially blaming them for the situation), the construction criminals continued to build at the site.

So we pressured the CA (again) to enforce the law, and finally, yesterday morning, forces came to tear down the structure.

We congratulate the CA for doing its job properly, but we are troubled by the fact that the authorities woke up only after Regavim’s petition and after the Court fined the CA. The whole point of the 2018 legislation is to facilitate and shorten the enforcement process, allowing for the demolition of new structures within days rather than months!

The Civil Administration doesn’t like public criticism and scrutiny, but in this case, their failure to act swiftly must be noted. It’s no wonder that the CA has proven incapable in the face of the strategic, systematic takeover of Area C and the open spaces in Judea & Samaria.
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Regavim petitions High Court of Justice: Apply the enforcement tools legislated in 2018 against new Palestinian Authority de facto annexation in Gush Etzion region of Area C.

Following the Regavim Movement’s urgent requests to the Ministry of Defense to halt further progress on an illegal road being paved by the Palestinian Authority in a strategic area of Gush Etzion, Regavim filed a petition in the High Court of Justice this morning (Wednesday). The road, which connects the Area B villages of Battir and Husan, will effectively strangle the Jewish community of Har Gilo.

Last week, the Regavim Movement submitted a second urgent alert to Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and to the Civil Administration, demanding immediate enforcement action against a strategic Palestinian Authority project in Gush Etzion – a road connecting the Palestinian villages Battir and Husan.

The road skirts the Jewish community of Har Gilo, spanning the Heletz Valley, and connects the illegal “northern extension” of Battir to the village of Husan, both of which are designated as Area B (under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction).

Eitan Melet, Regavim’s Field Coordinator for Judea and Samaria, who documented the ongoing roadwork, explains that the land on which the Palestinian Authority is laying the road is of particular strategic importance: “This,” he says, “constitutes the corridor connecting Gush Etzion to Jerusalem, and is a vital strategic asset for Israeli control of the area. The illegal road, and the further expansion of the Palestinian villages that it will eventually facilitate, will turn territory under full Israeli jurisdiction into an isolated enclave surrounded by territory under de facto Palestinian Authority control.”

Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Neeman stressed that this incident illustrates the Palestinian Authority’s systematic method of achieving territorial contiguity: “The Batir road is one more attempt to dismantle Israeli sovereignty. The road work must be stopped – yesterday! – and we must prevent the creation of a Palestinian state right under our noses. Protection of Israeli state land and law enforcement against illegal construction, land-grabs and encroachment on our national resources must be at the very top of the list of priorities of every Israeli official.”

Regavim issued two separate alerts in recent days calling for a criminal investigation against the perpetrators who are carrying out the work, and full disclosure of any and all enforcement activity that has been carried out. In light of the urgency of the matter and the pace at which the work on the road is progressing, and after no response was received and no enforcement activity was carried out, Regavim petitioned the High Court of Justice to instruct the Ministry of Defense to apply the relatively new legislation, passed in 2018 and approved by the High Court in recent rulings, that empowers the demolition of new structures.

The State of Israel enacted an effective enforcement order to fight the Palestinian takeover of Judea and Samaria, but the Civil Administration has refrained from using it – despite the approval of the High Court of Justice. Now, the Regavim Movement and the Samaria Regional Council have submitted a High Court petition demanding that the legislation be applied against Palestinian invasion of an archaeological site in Samaria.

Over the past several months, Regavim has documented a persistent stream of incursion and annexation, as residents of Burkin, a village located in the area under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction, have taken over a significant parcel of land in the Ariel Commercial Zone – located in Area C, under full Israeli jurisdiction.

The area that is being quietly annexed is adjacent to an archaeological site known as Khirbet Khurkosh, where a magnificent Hellenistic Era mausoleum was discovered, along with other remains dating from the Iron Age through the Middle Ages.

This gradual annexation began with road work, which was soon followed by land clearing and preparation for agricultural work. Mature olive trees were quickly planted, in an attempt to make the newly-cleared area look “old” – and now, a large structure, already connected to electricity infrastructure despite its considerable distance from the village, is nearing completion. This entire project is unfolding on “survey land,” Israeli state land for which full registration has not been completed.

The recently-filed High Court petition emphasizes that six different requests for enforcement were submitted to the relevant authorities at each of the stages of the annexation process, but the work continued, unhindered, and no discernable enforcement has been carried out.

For years, the Palestinian Authority and its partners in the European Union have exploited the Israeli bureaucratic and legal systems, successfully preventing law enforcement against illegal Palestinian annexation.

In 2018, the “Order for the Removal of New Illegal Structures” was enacted by the defense establishment and the State Attorney’s Office as part of the “Battle for Area C.” This legislation allows the demolition of new structures built without a permit within six months of construction. The order may be implemented within 96 hours of issuance of an eviction order.

The “Removal of New Structures” order is an effective enforcement tool that makes it possible to streamline the law enforcement process and make it more difficult for offenders to establish facts on the ground by abusing the judicial process.

After the “Removal of New Structures” order was enacted, left-wing organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice to strike it down, but their petition was rejected and the High Court approved the order’s use. Nonetheless, to this day the state has made minimal use of this order, despite the fact that it has proven to be the most efficient and effective tool in the fight against illegal construction.

In the petition filed by Regavim Movement and the Samaria Regional Council, attorneys Avi Segal and Yael Cinnamon requested that the High Court order the authorities to apply the “Order for Removal of New Structures” against the ongoing invasion of Khirbet Khurkosh.

Samaria Council Chairman Yossi Dagan said: “The Security Cabinet announced its intention to battle the PA’s annexation of Area C, and the time has come for the enforcement authorities to act accordingly – to approach the problem in a systematic fashion and to act systematically. We must stop the Palestinian Authority’s rampage, and tell them, loudly and clearly, who’s the boss.”

The joint petition stresses that “this case illustrates the PA’s systematic, well-financed and carefully-planned takeover of Area C, which seeks to shift the focal point of Palestinian development from Area B to Area C. The Palestinian Authority is establishing facts on the ground in order to tie Israel’s hands – both in terms of current security considerations and in terms of political leverage in strategic points in Area C. These one-sided facts on the ground will impact the opening positions for future negotiations, and the State of Israel must address them right now.”

An illegal structure built on Israeli state lands at the archaeological site of Khirbet Khurkosh