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Israel state prosecution and Migron outpost clash over land purchase validity

Click photo to download. Caption: The Jewish outpost of Migron in the West Bank. Credit: Daniel Ventura.
Click photo to download. Caption: The Jewish outpost of Migron in the West Bank. Credit: Daniel Ventura.

All the structures in the disputed West Bank outpost of Migron must be removed, despite residents’ claims that they legally purchased some of the land, Israel’s state prosecution said in a brief filed with the High Court of Justice Monday in response to the residents’ petition.

Seventeen Migron families asked the court to overturn its order forcing them to vacate their homes, citing recent real estate transactions that allegedly proved the land is no longer owned by its original Palestinian owners.

The state claims that only one plot, No. 10, is potentially owned by the residents, and suggested that the court allow a three-month stay in vacating the plot to allow further hearings on the matter.

Migron, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to the northeast of Jerusalem, is the largest of more than 100 outposts built without official Israeli government authorization, and is currently home to some 50 families. Peace Now, a left-wing advocacy group, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the residents of Migron in 2006, claiming that the land might in fact be privately owned by Palestinians. The court concurred, and in an unprecedented ruling last August, it told the government to ensure the outpost was evacuated by March 31 this year.

Several months ago, the court rejected a deal between the residents and the state that would have had the residents vacate their homes and relocate to a nearby community. The court leveled harsh criticism against the agreement, saying the residents were trying to undo the ruling using questionable and invalid legal maneuvers since the court had already weighed the merits of the case and made a final ruling on it. The agreement also did not explicitly stipulate the demolition of the structures in the community and thus did not fully comply with the court’s decision. Last month, the court agreed to postpone the evacuation until at least late August.

Officials feared some extremist settlers might exact revenge for the move by targeting Arabs and IDF bases, overwhelming the army during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a sensitive period for security. The court also agreed to hear arguments on the merits of the land purchase deals on Aug. 21.

The issue of illegal outposts—sparsely populated settlements in Judea and Samaria established without official government sanction and often on private or disputed Palestinian land—has occasionally caused tempers to flare on the Right. Last September, the demolition of structures in Migron led to clashes with settlers and even to suspected “price-tag” attacks in the form of vandalism on Arab property and an Israeli army base.

Yesha Council head Dani Dayan, whose organization is the umbrella body of the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria (and until 2005, the Gaza Strip) attacked the prosecution’s position Monday, saying the “hearing at the High Court of Justice is a test; if the court upholds the property rights of settlers it will have restored some of its lost honor.”

Peace Now General Director Yariv Oppenheimer attacked the government Monday for what he called its “refusal to abide by the ruling that mandates a complete evacuation of the outpost.”

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said the state prosecution’s conduct was unacceptable and called it a “legal coup.”

“The Ministerial Committee on Settlement Affairs decided one thing, but the state prosecution favors something else; perhaps next time elections are held Israelis will just elect prosecutors rather than parties,” Elkin told Army Radio Monday.

According to Army Radio, the state does not believe the reported land transactions change the underlying circumstances governing the case and has instructed the Israel Police to scrutinize the deals to determine whether the property was purchased unlawfully.

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