“‘Yes,’ agreed Ferdinand, ‘It truly is so,’
But the order is not valid in the palace.
Only the common people must obey it.
In the palace, you may speak properly.'”
It is with these words from the Hebrew classic “The Life and Times of Ferdinand Pedhazur etc.” by Ephraim Sidon, pallidly translated by yours truly, that we opened the petition we served four years ago against a series of authorities – the municipality of settlement Mod’iin Illit, the Union of Authorities for Firefighting and Emergency Services in the Region of Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley, the SJPD, the Minister of Defense, the Commander of IDF Forces in the West Bank, and the Chief of the Civil Administration. Recently, the High Court of Justice (HCJ) held a hearing in the petition; we demanded the removal of a number of buildings built by the municipality of Modi’in Illit on private Palestinian land, and ordered its removal.
The construction took place in 1999-2000, and even though the Civil Administration was quick to issue demolition orders against the structures – which included some emergency services, but also regular municipality offices, at a later point also including the office of the municipality’s comptroller (!) – it then behaved according to procedure. That is, it left the implementation of the orders to the consideration of the military commander, and assiduously avoided carrying them out.
In other words, the government helped in the stealing the land of private civilians, Palestinian ones, and transferred it in fact, by deed or inaction, to the hands of Israeli authorities. The process is contrary to Israeli law, as well as international law, which says that the occupation authorities are obliged to protect the protected population in the occupied territories, as well as their property.
The authorities, caught red-handed, were quick to blame one another, each blaming the others for preventing the removal of the buildings, in what can only be described as collective contempt for the rule of law. During 2009-2010, we tried to have the buildings removed, and each authority sent us to another. During the HCJ hearing, Judge Uzi Fogelman noted that “instead of removing the disgrace, feet are being dragged.”
During the hearing, the government tried to stick to its usual modus operandi, i.e. a vague promise to remove the structures sometime, while admitting they are illegal but emphasizing that “now” is not the time. This “now” is worth looking into: any connection between it and the normal meaning of time is not only non-existent, it is misleading. The “now” the government refers to is drawn into infinity, it pines towards the setting of suns, it is in tune with the biblical “for a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday,” it echoes the messianic “though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come,” until it merges into the “temporary situation” which is the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, and is gone.
Unfortunately for the government, the representative of the municipality of Modi’in Illit misunderstood its strategy of Longue Duree, intended to postpone the hearing until the next ice age, and dared to say that the main problem is “visibility,” i.e., not what the municipality or the authorities are doing, but how their actions are seen. The judges were quick to admonish him: Judge Rubinstein said that “visibility is not small matter in a public situation,” and Judge Fogelman noted that “we reached the stage when building by the government on private grounds is related to visibility. This is a slippery slope.”
In the end, we managed to save small prey from its hunters: the HCJ ruled that the structures which are not emergency structures are to be evacuated within 60 days, and the rest, after various procedures, within less than a year. And as the court is already familiar with the dramatis personae, it also ruled the government must provide a monthly update on the advancement of the evacuation. We’ll keep you posted.