This article is a presentation of the background facts regarding the slated demolition of five apartment buildings (30 units) in the Ulpana Hill Neighborhood of Bet El.
The author’s own analysis of the decision is presented in a separate article being published alongside this one entitled: Bet El’s Ulpana Hill: Outrage Alongside a Sane Plan of Action
Jews Return to Bet ElThe return of the Jewish People to Samaria (the biblical heartland of Israel also known as the West Bank) began in 1976, nine years after the 6-Day War. Ancient Jewish towns were rebuilt after a 1900-year exile. It was the epitome of the Zionist dream, and many observers declared it the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Land for the historical undertaking was acquired in different ways. For example, some Jewish towns were built on state-owned land, while other desolate hills were expropriated by the government for security reasons and partially used for civilian residences adjacent to IDF bases. In yet other instances, land was purchased by local Jewish residents from their Arab neighbors.
Bet El Purchases Land To Add On to Ulpana NeighborhoodIn 2000, Bet El Institutions, under the direction of Rabbi Zalman Melamed and Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz sought to purchase 30 dunams (7.4 acres) of land on a barren, rugged slope adjacent to the modern town of Bet El. This property, also known as Block 5 Plot 34, was recorded in the land registry as belonging to Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan Hasan from the neighboring Arab village Dura El Kara.
Bet El Institutions found the land owner, who now goes by the name Ibrahim Juda Mustafa Hasan. Bet El verified through several channels that he was indeed the land owner; Bet El holds a letter from the Dura El Kara Village Council stating that Ibrahim Juda Mustafa Hasan is Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan Hasan.
Bet El Founder Ketzaleh raised a large sum of money and on June 29, 2000, the contract was signed. The money was handed to Ibrahim, and the documents were notarized all in accordance with Israeli law and practice. No one today disputes this fact.
Ibrahim Hasan –Let Live or DieWhen Bet El came to record its name as owners of the 7.4 acres in the Land Registry, senior civil servants in the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria as well as an officer in the IDF (names withheld) strongly urged Bet El to postpone the action. They said that Arab groups would issue a death warrant for Ibrahim the land seller, while delaying the process would increase his chances of survival.
Bet El had no interest is seeing Ibrahim hanging from a telephone pole as can happen in such circumstances. “But how can we build on the property without first recording ownership in the registry,” the Bet El developers asked. The Civil Administration replied that it would not interfere since it knows that Bet El legally purchased the property. Construction of the Jewish residential buildings started immediately in the year 2000.
The verbal exchange about postponing the recorded change of ownership was not committed to writing.
European-Funded Group Claims Another Arab Owns the LandSeven years later in 2007, the Yesh Din organization (funded by the European Union, the governments of Germany, Norway, Holland, Ireland, and Great Britain, and philanthropist George Soros), under the direction of its attorney Michael Sfard claimed that “Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan Hasan” whose name appears in the land registry as owner of plot 5/34 is in fact another man named Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan who passed away in 1976, from the same Arab village next to Bet El.
But Sfard wisely took it a step further. He went to the Judea and Samaria Civil Administration and had the registry for plot 5/34 recorded in the name of the descendants of the new Arab.
On October 31, 2008, Michael Sfard with some of the Arab descendants appealed to the Supreme Court claiming that the land is theirs. The court immediately issued an injunction preventing Bet El from further developing the land. The five buildings, part of a neighborhood of 14 buildings, are situated on some four of the 30 dunams purchased. The entire 30 dunams consist of rocky, rugged ground which, according to aerial photos was never used for any purpose (Shlomo Ben Yosef, Aerial Photo Analyst).
When Bet El claimed before the Supreme Court that it purchased the land from the rightful owner, the court (on Sept 15, 2010) ordered the prosecution which represents the government to investigate and formulate an opinion regarding the land.
The government delayed its answer until Sept 29, 2011 at which time the prosecution reported that at a meeting of Prime Minister Netanyahu, other ministers and the attorney general, “the government policy was determined to be that construction on private lands should be demolished, to be differentiated from construction on state-owned lands.”
Supreme Court President Dorit Banish, Justice Salim Joubran (a Christian Arab born in Haifa), and Justice Uzi Fogelman order the state to demolish the homes by May 1, 2012.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon said that the prosecution completely misrepresented the government position, and had, in fact, taken a remark of his out of context. While he did say in a deliberation that “construction on private lands should be removed,” he clarified that he was not referring to the case of the Ulpana Hill in Bet El in any way. Yet the prosecution built its entire presentation of government policy to the Supreme court regarding Bet El based on this guideline that any construction on private lands was to be removed.
In addition, a lawyer from the Defense Ministry’s Legal Division reportedly told the prosecution that the government wants to demolish the buildings.
Government ministers were furious at the ProsecutionGovernment ministers said the prosecution misrepresented their position in recommending to the court in thename of the government to demolish the Jewish apartment buildings. They felt that the prosecution did not properly represent the mood of the government in this case. After further consultation, the government informed the court on April 27, 2012 that “The Prime Minister and the forum of ministers request to reconsider the ways to implement the policy upon which they decided, and as an extension of that, their precise position about which they notified the court in this appeal.”
On May 7, 2012, the court published its response that it sees no reason to reopen the deliberations despite the government request to do so. In a long explanation which spreads over eight pages, the three justices explained the principle that once the court gives a ruling, that’s it. It can’t be overturned except under extenuating circumstances which the judges determined do not exist here. In their decision, the judges used the Latin expression - functus officio – meaning, the court has rendered its final decision, and it cannot be reopened.
Due Process Being TrumpedBet El Institutions is suing the new land owners produced by Attorney Sfard and who were listed in the Land Registry in 2007 in the Jerusalem District Court. Bet El is claiming that their ownership is 100% fraudulent. This District Court case (Civilian Case #36209-09-11) represents the first time that the alleged land owners produced by Michael Sfard are being challenged to prove their ownership. The District Court has not yet made any determination on the issue. This is a key point: the Supreme Court openly admits that it did not investigate the ownership issue, but rather relied on the government position in its decision, as presented by the prosecution.
Bet El argued before the Supreme Court that the justices are hurrying to issue demolition orders before ownership has been determined through due process in a lower court. Justice Fogelman responded, “Do you expect us to wait several years for the outcome of that case while these buildings are sitting on land registered in the name of these Arabs?” [Quoted from memory by a Bet El representative present in the courtroom]
Furthermore, the Supreme Court wrote in its May 7,, 2012 response that Bet El had already presented its claim of ownership to the government and that the government rejected the claim. Again, the court is openly admitting that it is not determining ownership through any judicial process, but rather relying on the Netanyahu government position.
The court extended the deadline giving the government until July 1, 2012 to demolish the five residential buildings on Ulpana Hill.
Bet El’s leaders have formulated a plan of action to thwart the demolition of the 30 apartment units. Click here to read: Bet El’s Ulpana Hill: Outrage Alongside a Sane Plan of Action
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