The High Court of Justice delayed the construction of a sewage treatment facility for settlers on private Palestinian lands, and then the Civil Administration decided to bypass the decision

Several land owners from the Palestinian village of Ein Yabroud petitioned the HCJ on Sunday, through attorneys Michael Sfard, Shlomy Zachary and Muhammad Shaqir – members of Yesh Din’s legal team – demanding that a scandalous decision, legalizing the construction of a waste disposal facility (WDF), intended to serve the settlement of Ofra, on private Palestinian lands.

The issue is complicated, so we’ll stick to the facts. Until 2000, the residents of Ein Yabroud could reach their lands. Once the Second Intifada broke out, the IDF prevented them from accessing the lands close to Ofra. In 2007, the settlement began building the WDF on these lands. In 2009, when the land owners represented by Yesh Din first petitioned the HCJ, the government informed the court as follows: The WDF was indeed built on private Palestinian lands; the construction was illegal, and in 2008 demolition orders were issued against the facility; and the legal counsel of the Civil Administration in the West Bank ordered that funding it be stopped, and connecting it to the electrical grid be prevented. The government further told the court that Ofra does not have a planning scheme, which basically makes all construction in it illegal.

Despite all this, the government said that although the construction of the WDF was blatantly illegal, and several blunders were made, the HCJ should approve the facility as the government already spent 7.8 million NIS on it, and is considering making the facility a regional one. The court was not impressed, and in 2011 forbade connecting this white elephant to the necessary utilities and forbade its activation until a legal agreement about its activation can be found.

Here began a series of events which we shall delicately term “improper,” because if we’d write what we truly think about this, we’d get sued. For starters, the Chairman of the Mateh Binyamin Council issued a fictive construction permit (!) for the WDF, on the pretext that It was built on and seized for security reasons – which never happened; and a day after the Civil Administration order forbidding the continuing of work, a senior official in the Council told the construction company to keep working as usual. It seems the Mateh Binyamin Council isn’t impressed with the court. Then again, ignoring the courts, particularly when it comes to construction, is – as shown by our report – all too common in the settlements.

Then came the Civil Administration’s Subcommittee for the Environment – against whose decision we appeal – and broke new records of absurdity and chutzpah. It hired an engineer, Yoni Kupelevich, who wrote a paper saying the only reasonable possibility for a waste disposal facility is the one which was legally disqualified. Kupelevich, a water engineer, allowed himself to express opinion on issues outside his field of expertise, such as land value. The subcommittee delayed supplying this report to the appellants so much that they had to cancel their participation in the meeting where it was discussed. Later the subcommittee supplied the appellants with a partial version of the report, which was discovered after considerable delay.

The subcommittee’s decision claimed the WDF would serve not just Ofra, but also the villages in the region. This is purified bullshit. The WDF’s capacity is about 4,300 people; the number of residents in the villages is about 25,000; the number of Ofta settlers (including the ulpana student there) was, in 2010, about 4,200. That’s some coincidence, isn’t it?

And if that wasn’t enough there are alternatives to the WDF. To start with, in 1981 the government seized some four dunams of land near Ofra and built oxidation ponds on them. The ponds are inactive today, as the settlers built around the facility and the settlers have complained about the smells reaching the houses near them. Again: according to the government itself, all structures in Ofra are illegal, and still it prefers not to enforce its own orders. A second alternative the subcommittee and Kupelevich’s report rejected was the construction of a regional waste disposal facility which will serve the entire region, not just Ofra, near Nahal Ogg. The subcommittee claimed it would be too expensive – its cost was estimated at 17,500,000 NIS. Ofra’s WDF has already cost the taxpayer 7,500,000 NIS, and its final cost is supposed to be 15.8 million NIS – and, unlike the suggested Nahal Ogg facility, it serves just the settlers of Ofra. We’re all for the environment; it’s just unclear to us why it is always, in the West Bank, connected to the theft of Palestinian lands.

Above all, it should be remembered that international law strictly limits the right to confiscate private lands, and as a principle allows it only as a result of pressing military needs. International law, since the 1907 Hague Convention, sees civilians living in an occupied territories as protected individuals, which the occupying power is prohibited from harming. Among the proscribed acts is the confiscation of private property. The Fourth Geneva Convention also prohibits the destruction of private property, unless it is done for essential military needs.

These rights, it should be emphasized, are fortified by the active duty of the authorities to defend occupied subjects from the confiscation of their property. There isn’t, nor can there be, any dispute that the construction of the waste disposal facility on private Palestinian land prevents the owners from using the land. Unfortunately, as our petition says, “to the petitioners’ dismay and the Government’s dishonor, the authorities charged with enforcement systematically avoid enforcing the law, and even act to deepen and increase the damage to petitioners’ land.” We must hope that the court will force them to stop neglecting their duty of protecting the occupied subjects.