After the state used its full force to demolish over 30 buildings at Amona last month over claims by absentee Arab claimants that they owned the land, Avigdor Liberman is set to give Arab squatters who built illegal homes on state land a break, leaving the majority of illegally built structures in place – in direct contradiction to statements he made during the election campaign that led to his appointment as defense minister.
At issue are 33 buildings in an Arab outpost near the Jewish community of Sussiya in the southern Chevron Hills. The outpost was built by members of the Nawaja clan, who hail from the neighboring village of Yatta. The 33 homes were built on state land over the past three years in direct contradiction to High Court orders that no construction take place there at all.
The specific injunction was issued after a 2013 lawsuit by the Regavim organization against construction at the site. Already at that time, some 30 structures had been built on state land, and the court ordered that no new buildings be constructed while the case progressed. The state clearly established, using aerial photography, that the structures had all been built within the previous decade on state land, so there was no question as to their illegal status. That the court did not order the immediate demolition of the existing buildings was due to “humanitarian considerations,” according to court records.
However, the clan continued its construction activities, building another 33 structures after the court injunction was issued. In 2014, the court ordered these buildings torn down, generating a flurry of petitions and counter petitions between Regavim and attorneys representing the squatters. Meanwhile, the state tried to settle with the clan, offering them “very generous” terms to leave the site, according to Regavim – but the clan categorically refused to do so.
In August 2016, the court decided that the continued ignoring of its injunction was unacceptable, and ordered the buildings demolished immediately. The squatters appealed, and the state is set to give its response on Sunday. But according to sources at the Defense Ministry, the state – at the orders of Liberman himself – plans to ask for final permission to tear down just 17 of the 33 structures, again citing “humanitarian grounds” for permission to leave the other illegal buildings intact. Liberman, as a candidate before the 2015 election, toured the area and vowed to remove the illegal buildings, and in the wake of the Amona evictions, proclaimed that “the law for Amona and the law for the Nawaja outpost is the same.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Liberman said that the allegations were “nonsense,” and that the minister had not changed his mind about the Nawaja squatters. However, the spokesperson said, “everything that will be done now must be within the confines of the law.”