Right’s Answer to Court Evictions: Lawsuits Against State

General view of houses in Efrat. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

In what is likely to be a precedent-setting case, an Israeli family from the Shomron-region town of Nili is suing the Civil Administration in Yehudah and Shomron for losses of a million shekels in the value of their property, after officials retroactively declared their house illegal. The lawsuit in the Yerushalayim District Court, which is being conducted by the Regavim organization, is likely to have a major impact on the government’s policy of demolition of houses on lands claimed by Palestinians.

The family moved from Tel Aviv to Nili – a settlement with a mixed population of observant and secular residents – in 2013, where they built their house on land that was sold by the local authority. The land came with building permits, and was listed by the Civil Administration as being within the building plan of the town. Purchase of the land and construction of the home cost the family about NIS 2 million.

Legally, all seemed in order – and it was, until March 2015, when a survey reclassified their home as having been built outside the legal boundaries of the town. The survey was conducted without warning and without informing the family, or about a dozen neighbors who live on the street, which has now been removed from the jurisdiction of the local authority. As a result, the homes on the street were declared retroactively illegal, and their value has plummeted. No Palestinian claims have yet been filed on the land, but as it is no longer considered state land, such claims would now be accepted by the courts.

The homes would not necessarily be demolished, as they would be covered by the Settlement Arrangements Law, which would provide compensation for Palestinians who claim the land. However, the family does not wish to be forced to take advantage of the provisions of that law; according to the lawsuit, they paid for a house that was built with all the legal permits required, and retroactive reclassification of their house as illegal has materially damaged them.

According to Regavim, which defends the property rights of Israelis in Yehudah and Shomron, there are thousands of homes in the region whose owners have been legally exposed to claims by Palestinians, as the result of this reclassification scheme. Many of the reclassifications were conducted based on surveys in 2014 and 2015, and Regavim, which discovered the Civil Administration’s activities – which the Asministration did not publicize – brought the matter to the attention of MKs in the Likud and Jewish Home. A committee of MKs from the two parties discussed the matter, and developed the Settlement Arrangements Law as a response.

“This process of chopping away at the legal boundaries of settlements has been going on for some time now,” Regavim said in a statement. “These actions are fatal blows not only to the settlements themselves, but to the property rights of Israelis who built their homes legally. If the Settlement Arrangements Law is canceled by the High Court and many of the homes that were declared illegal are slated for demolition, the state will have to pay out billions of shekels in settlements due to an onslaught of lawsuits, the results of the actions of the Civil Administration.”