MK: Procedural Change on Yesha Construction Challenges Could End Court-Ordered Demolitions

YERUSHALAYIM -
Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Knesset Constitutional Committee on Wednesday authorized for its second and third reading a law that will allow legal matters in Yehudah and Shomron on planning and construction to be heard in district courts, as opposed to being adjudicated in the High Court, as they are today. The law is an amalgam of proposals by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. According to Smotrich, the law “is an important step in the normalization and equitable legislation for building in Yehudah and Shomron and in Israel proper. Allowing these issues to be heard in district courts will allow residents of Yehudah and Shomron to enjoy legal services that have been denied them until now.”

The law is based on a measure passed in the year 2000 that promises Israelis who face legal challenges on matters of construction and planning the opportunity to appeal decisions that go against them, a law that has been upheld by the High Court several times. Until now, that law did not apply to Yehudah and Shomrona; there, residents were forced to take their issues directly to the High Court, whose decision is final and does not generally allow for appeals.

In addition, because the court’s calendar is so crowded, issues of less importance, such as individual appeals and lawsuits, often found them pushed back on the court’s calendar, and some cases lingered for years before being heard, Smotrich said. As Israeli citizens, residents of Yehudah and Shomron are entitled to the same legal treatment as residents of Israelis who live within the 1948 borders – hence the proposal, he said.

While the law will be important for individuals who have legal issues surrounding additions or changes in their homes, its greatest use will be in issues of Palestinians challenging Israeli construction on land they claim, said Smotrich. As soon as such cases are heard by the High Court, it usually issues an injunction against further construction, and often requires demolition of the structures on the disputed land – even though there is generally no evidence presented by Palestinians beyond a verbal claim. The district courts require evidence. In such cases, such as in Amona, Netiv Ha’avot, and other areas, the High Court has ordered demolitions of homes based on those claims – a situation that would not come about with the new law, the MK said.

“As a result of this law the situation will be reversed. Instead of placing the burden of proof on the homeowner, the burden of proof will be on the Palestinians or the state,” said Smotrich. “I hope that this law will correct the situation where residents of Yehudah and Shomron are discriminated against, as the district courts are less politically oriented than the High Court, and will be much less tolerant of petitions that are not based on facts and have no evidence to back them up, and are accepted by the High Court only because they were filed by Arabs or leftists.”