The Israeli Supreme Court issued a decision on Thursday ordering the demolition of Way of the Patriarchs, an outpost built on private Palestinian land located in the Gush Etzion cluster within the Judean Mountains. In her ruling, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor stated that it be demolished by March 2018.
Naor’s decision, however, was met by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), who has already vowed to work with the Defense Ministry to bring about a change in the political process that would protect the outposts such as the one in Way of the Patriarchs from being dismantled. The petition for the demolition was submitted by left-identified organization Peace Now.
Naor’s ruling made it clear that “No one is disputing that all the structures were built illegally, without getting the necessary approvals for planning and setting up the outpost.” She added that “There is indeed considerable difficulty in a forced evacuation of residents from the homes they have been living in for many years: in addition to the social ramifications of leaving a person without a roof over their heads, severe damage is also caused due to the special connection to this specific residence.”
But while she acknowledged the sensitivity of the case, Naor said that “All this is not enough to authorize that which is unlawful. The legal proceedings regarding Way of the Patriarchs have been going on for many years, during which more structures were erected illegally, despite court orders stating that all building be stopped. Under these circumstances, the damage that will be caused to the citizens cannot be the deciding factor.”
The Way of the Patriarchs was set up in 2001 on non-regulated land. The first petitions demanding that the law be enforced were submitted in 2002, and in 2014 a petition was submitted against the 17 structures erected on the site, which the petitioners claimed were all built on private property.
The State requested to postpone the court proceedings to review the land’s status by the Knesset. Naor, however, rejected it. “As for the State’s request: with all due respect, the political echelon has no standing here,” she said in her ruling. “The State must abide by the law, just like everyone else. Its request is not sufficient to authorize a situation of continued unlawfulness and the breach of commitments made during this legal proceeding. We must remember that we are dealing with the authorities’ obligation to enforce construction and building laws. And in this context, political considerations have no place.”
The political right reacted with severe criticism to the Supreme Court decision. Minister of Tourism Yarin Levin (Likud) said that “This is an outrageous and illogical decision made by the Supreme Court to halt and interfere with political decisions. The Supreme Court’s actions cause hurtful and unbalanced enforcement of the law against Jews alone, which delegitimizes (the Supreme Court) in the eyes of the Israeli public.”
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and of Environmental Protection Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), who resides in Gush Etzion, also came out against the ruling. “The Supreme Court’s outrageous decision to destroy part of the Way of the Patriarchs settlement is crossing a red line and shows a complete disconnect of the Supreme Court from common sense and the history and heritage of the Jewish people. Once again we are faced with the urgent need to fundamentally reform the Israeli Justice System. I call on Justice Minister Shaked to lead such a wide-ranging reform to return the public’s trust in the Supreme Court.”
Minster of Education and Chairperson of the Bayit Yehudi party Naftali Bennett similarly criticized the decision. “The ruling that ordered the demolition of 17 houses in Gush Etzion is very serious. Extreme left-wing organizations have given up on convincing the people of the need to establish a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria and are instead trying to bypass the public by exploiting the Justice System and having the will of a minority imposed upon the majority.”
Chairperson of Hatnuah faction Tzipi Livni responded to Bennett’s statement with criticism of her own. “I suggest the minister of education sit in on a Citizenship lesson to understand the meaning of democracy. The Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Way of the Patriarchs has nothing to do with our conflict with the Palestinians, but rather with who we are and what values we hold. The minister of education needs to understand once and for all that a democracy does not mean a majority-led tyranny without limitations, but a system of values and the rule of law, which the Supreme Court safeguards. It’s shameful that this is what the minister of education chooses to say on the first day of school.”