Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bet El’s Ulpana Hill: Outrage Alongside a Sane Plan of Action

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I am outraged to the core by the recent Israeli Supreme Court decision to demolish the homes of thirty Jewish families in Bet El’s Ulpana Neighborhood which were built on land purchased from an Arab.

I hunger fasted for the four days leading up to the June 6th Knesset vote on the Arrangements Bill which had it passed, would have resolved the issue in a just way through legislation.

The facts and background of this case are presented in detail in a separate article being published alongside this one entitled: Bet El’s UlpanaNeighborhood: The Background and Facts.

Why I believe the Supreme Court Decision is Not Just

1)      The Supreme Court is rushing to demolish these 30 apartment units before the Jerusalem District Court has determined who the real owners are. You heard correctly. In the ongoing Civilian Case #36209-09-11, the lower court may yet determine that Bet El Institutions are the rightful owners. It will likely take some two years for the lower court to review the evidence and issue its ruling.
2)      In 2000, Bet El Institutions, under the leadership of Rabbi Zalman Melamed and Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz negotiated with the Arab land owner alongside their respective attorneys, and paid Ibrahim Judah Mustafa Hasan a large sum of money to legally purchase the 7.4 acres (30 dunams) in accordance with Israeli law. Even if Bet El erred (which the lower court has not yet determined) and purchased the land from the wrong man, once the apartment buildings are built, it is commonplace in legal proceedings to compensate the rightful owner, and not demolish the homes.

3)      The case for compensation instead of demolition is strengthened when considering that the Arabs who later claimed to be the owners stood silent for 7 complete years while Bet El built and populated the Ulpana neighborhood on “their” land. They took no legal action even though the construction is in clear view with the naked eye from their homes in the neighboring Arab village.
4)      The case for compensation is strengthened when considering that a law exists in pre-1967 Israel which forbids destruction of buildings in such a scenario and dictates that the court should determine who should compensate and who should be compensated. While a  Knesset bill is required to extend the that law to Judea and Samaria, the law’s very existence is testimony to its being the just solution.
5)      The case for compensation is further strengthened when considering that the Arabs who claim the land will never derive benefit from it. I would have more sympathy for the Supreme Court ruling if the Arabs who filed suit had intentions to build a bowling alley there, establish a Halal meat stand, or build a Kassam rocket factory. But, the land will sit barren as it has been for centuries, by order of the IDF since it would be a security breach to allow the Arabs access to the middle of a Jewish town.
6)      I am further outraged by the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court justices have usurped exaggerated power over the elected officials of the State of Israel who asked the court to reconsider their position. The court responded saying, “No, we will not allow you to rethink your position. You, the government, said to demolish the homes, and we, the court, have determined that to be your final position even though you think otherwise.” US Legal Expert Robert Bork has called the Israeli Supreme Court “the greatest threat to democracy in Israel,” because of its activist policy of usurping power over the executive branch.
7)      I am outraged that the State Prosecution misrepresented the government position in its presentation to the court. I am disappointed that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not have the strength to call the prosecution to task or simply replace them.
8)     Many lands were distributed by King Abdallah of Jordan to Arabs whom he rewarded for their loyalty. These lands were not purchased and often never used. Such is the case with the 7.4 acres of the Ulpana Hill. It is rocky terrain and was never used. Would it not be just for these lands which were distributed for free by the Jordanian (and earlier by the Turkish) ruler to revert back to being state-owned lands under Israeli rule?
9)     Bet El Mayor Moshe Rosenbaum said that his personal friend, the Mayor of Abu Gosh (an Israeli Arab town near Jerusalem) told him that there is not one legally-built home amongst his entire constituency. So Mr. Rosenbaum suggests that if the court wishes to demolish illegally-built homes, why not start in chronological order with the thousands of Arab homes that were determined illegal years ago. Why start with these five Jewish apartment buildings in Bet El?

The Plan to Save the Ulpana Homes
I am outraged, but I am not broken. We are amidst a major struggle and we have good chances of winning. Here is the game plan.

Knesset member Ketzaleh is spearheading the efforts to convince government ministers to, at the very least, refrain from demolishing the homes, even if they expel the Jewish residents. "Even in the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain, they didn't destory the Jewish buildings. You can go there today and see Jewish structures," Ketzaleh has told government officials.  This compromise which partially honors the court ruling has good chances of being adopted by the government.

Thus, the key is with the Netanyahu government. Netanyahu himself said several times that the court decision to demolish the Bet El homes is “a decree that the public cannot accept.”

There exist precedents of Supreme Court rulings that the executive branch, with its broad scope and power as elected representatives of the people, has refused to abide by. For example, the court has ruled many times to allow Jews to pray freely on the Temple. To this day, the Israel Police forbid Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount because they say it would cause Arab rioting.

Netanyahu needs our help. If they sense enough pressure, Netanyahu and his ministers can adopt a compromise course of action.

Here is how to do it: 

1)      Donate. The single most important way to participate in the struggle is to donate. Bet El Institutions is alone in waging the legal battle, in paying for all the publicity associated with the campaign, in bussing protestors to various venues, and all other aspects of the struggle. The fees for the campaign are great to the point that we have spread out expenses via loans to be paid back over the next twelve months. There are several initiatives to stop the demolition which are not being publicized. These are also very costly.

Please make a one-time or recurring contribution. Many small donations add up. You become a part of the struggle.
Donate here: BetElInstitutions.com

2)      Write emails. Write emails to the following government ministers demanding justice for the residents of the Ulpana Hill. Let them feel that there are masses of people who are outraged by this development:

b.      For other ministers, go to this page:
Write to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan, Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon, Minister of Culture and Sport LImor Livnat, Minister of Communications Moshe Kahlon, Minister of Education Gidon Saar, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz

3)      Protest. If you are in Israel, join the protest tents in Bet El and block the demolition through non-violent civil disobedience. If Netanyahu needs to see masses of protestors, he is more likely to refrain from demolishing the homes.
4)   Spiritual Activism. Don’t forget to open your hearts to Hashem in prayer to strengthen the Jewish People in Israel in general, and to save the Ulpana homes in Bet El in particular. If you study in Yeshiva, dedicate learning time to saving the homes in Bet El. Our cries can change the ruling in the Supreme of all Supreme Courts.

Don't rely on others. Make even a small monthly donation, write a few emails, come to the protest tents, and pray. Together we shall succeed.
In the big picture, we are winning. Even if G-d forbid they demolish the homes, there are many good things that will yet come out of it.

More on that in a later post.

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Bet El’s Ulpana Neighborhood: The Background & Facts

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This article is a presentation of the background facts regarding the slated demolition of five apartment buildings (30 units) in the Ulpana Hill Neighborhood of Bet El.

The author’s own analysis of the decision is presented in a separate article being published alongside this one entitled: Bet El’s Ulpana Hill: Outrage Alongside a Sane Plan of Action

Jews Return to Bet El
The return of the Jewish People to Samaria (the biblical heartland of Israel also known as the West Bank) began in 1976, nine years after the 6-Day War. Ancient Jewish towns were rebuilt after a 1900-year exile. It was the epitome of the Zionist dream, and many observers declared it the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Land for the historical undertaking was acquired in different ways. For example, some Jewish towns were built on state-owned land, while other desolate hills were expropriated by the government for security reasons and partially used for civilian residences adjacent to IDF bases. In yet other instances, land was purchased by local Jewish residents from their Arab neighbors.

Bet El Purchases Land To Add On to Ulpana Neighborhood
In 2000, Bet El Institutions, under the direction of Rabbi Zalman Melamed and Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz sought to purchase 30 dunams (7.4 acres) of land on a barren, rugged slope adjacent to the modern town of Bet El. This property, also known as Block 5 Plot 34, was recorded in the land registry as belonging to Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan Hasan from the neighboring Arab village Dura El Kara.

Bet El Institutions found the land owner, who now goes by the name Ibrahim Juda Mustafa Hasan. Bet El verified through several channels that he was indeed the land owner; Bet El holds a letter from the Dura El Kara Village Council stating that Ibrahim Juda Mustafa Hasan is Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan Hasan.

Bet El Founder Ketzaleh raised a large sum of money and on June 29, 2000, the contract was signed. The money was handed to Ibrahim, and the documents were notarized all in accordance with Israeli law and practice. No one today disputes this fact.

Ibrahim Hasan –Let Live or Die
When Bet El came to record its name as owners of the 7.4 acres in the Land Registry, senior civil servants in the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria as well as an officer in the IDF (names withheld) strongly urged Bet El to postpone the action. They said that Arab groups would issue a death warrant for Ibrahim the land seller, while delaying the process would increase his chances of survival.

Bet El had no interest is seeing Ibrahim hanging from a telephone pole as can happen in such circumstances. “But how can we build on the property without first recording ownership in the registry,” the Bet El developers asked. The Civil Administration replied that it would not interfere since it knows that Bet El legally purchased the property. Construction of the Jewish residential buildings started immediately in the year 2000.

The verbal exchange about postponing the recorded change of ownership was not committed to writing.

European-Funded Group Claims Another Arab Owns the Land
Seven years later in 2007, the Yesh Din organization (funded by the European Union, the governments of Germany, Norway, Holland, Ireland, and Great Britain, and philanthropist George Soros), under the direction of its attorney Michael Sfard claimed that “Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan Hasan” whose name appears in the land registry as owner of plot 5/34 is in fact another man named Ibrahim Mustafa Hasan who passed away in 1976, from the same Arab village next to Bet El.

But Sfard wisely took it a step further. He went to the Judea and Samaria Civil Administration and had the registry for plot 5/34 recorded in the name of the descendants of the new Arab.

On October 31, 2008, Michael Sfard with some of the Arab descendants appealed to the Supreme Court claiming that the land is theirs. The court immediately issued an injunction preventing Bet El from further developing the land. The five buildings, part of a neighborhood of 14 buildings, are situated on some four of the 30 dunams purchased. The entire 30 dunams consist of rocky, rugged ground which, according to aerial photos was never used for any purpose (Shlomo Ben Yosef, Aerial Photo Analyst).

When Bet El claimed before the Supreme Court that it purchased the land from the rightful owner, the court (on Sept 15, 2010) ordered the prosecution which represents the government to investigate and formulate an opinion regarding the land.

The government delayed its answer until Sept 29, 2011 at which time the prosecution reported that at a meeting of Prime Minister Netanyahu, other ministers and the attorney general, “the government policy was determined to be that construction on private lands should be demolished, to be differentiated from construction on state-owned lands.”

Supreme Court President Dorit Banish, Justice Salim Joubran (a Christian Arab born in Haifa), and Justice Uzi Fogelman order the state to demolish the homes by May 1, 2012.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon said that the prosecution completely misrepresented the government position, and had, in fact, taken a remark of his out of context. While he did say in a deliberation that “construction on private lands should be removed,” he clarified that he was not referring to the case of the Ulpana Hill in Bet El in any way. Yet the prosecution built its entire presentation of government policy to the Supreme court regarding Bet El based on this guideline that any construction on private lands was to be removed.

In addition, a lawyer from the Defense Ministry’s Legal Division reportedly told the prosecution that the government wants to demolish the buildings.

Government ministers were furious at the Prosecution
Government ministers said the prosecution misrepresented their position in recommending to the court in thename of the government to demolish the Jewish apartment buildings.  They felt that the prosecution did not properly represent the mood of the government in this case. After further consultation, the government informed the court on April 27, 2012 that “The Prime Minister and the forum of ministers request to reconsider the ways to implement the policy upon which they decided, and as an extension of that, their precise position about which they notified the court in this appeal.”

On May 7, 2012, the court published its response that it sees no reason to reopen the deliberations despite the government request to do so. In a long explanation which spreads over eight pages, the three justices explained the principle that once the court gives a ruling, that’s it. It can’t be overturned except under extenuating circumstances which the judges determined do not exist here. In their decision, the judges used the Latin expression - functus officio – meaning, the court has rendered its final decision, and it cannot be reopened.

Due Process Being Trumped
Bet El Institutions is suing the new land owners produced by Attorney Sfard and who were listed in the Land Registry in 2007 in the Jerusalem District Court. Bet El is claiming that their ownership is 100% fraudulent. This District Court case (Civilian Case #36209-09-11) represents the first time that the alleged land owners produced by Michael Sfard are being challenged to prove their ownership. The District Court has not yet made any determination on the issue. This is a key point: the Supreme Court openly admits that it did not investigate the ownership issue, but rather relied on the government position in its decision, as presented by the prosecution.

Bet El argued before the Supreme Court that the justices are hurrying to issue demolition orders before ownership has been determined through due process in a lower court. Justice Fogelman responded, “Do you expect us to wait several years for the outcome of that case while these buildings are sitting on land registered in the name of these Arabs?” [Quoted from memory by a Bet El representative present in the courtroom]

Furthermore, the Supreme Court wrote in its May 7,, 2012 response that Bet El had already presented its claim of ownership to the government and that the government rejected the claim. Again, the court is openly admitting that it is not determining ownership through any judicial process, but rather relying on the Netanyahu government position.

The court extended the deadline giving the government until July 1, 2012 to demolish the five residential buildings on Ulpana Hill.

Bet El’s leaders have formulated a plan of action to thwart the demolition of the 30 apartment units. Click here to read: Bet El’s Ulpana Hill: Outrage Alongside a Sane Plan of Action

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