ACRI Challenges House Demolitions in Hirbat Tana

In response to the petition submitted by ACRI and Rabbis for Human Rights to the Supreme Court on 6 December 2005, The court issued an interim injunction to stop the implementation of the demolition orders for structures in the village of Hirbat Tana. The demolition orders were issued for village structures that were re-built after the army destroyed them last summer. The Supreme Court was also asked to order the preparation of a detailed outline plan for the village, and for the issuance of court authorized building permits for the village residents

On 6 December 2005, The Supreme Court issued an interim injunction in response to the petition submitted by ACRI and the organization Rabbis for Human Rights on behalf of 15 residents of the village of Hirbat Tana in the district of Nablus, and on behalf of the organization for development and cooperation – whose aim is to develop the village, its public life and to ensure the welfare of its residents. In the petition, which was submitted against the planning authorities in the West Bank, the IDF, the Civil Administration and the Minister of Defense, the Supreme Court is asked to prohibit the demolition of the houses in Hirbat Tana and related structures that are essential for the residents` livelihood; these houses and structures were, in part, reconstructed following the army’s destruction of the village during the summer. The petition also requests that the court order the state to prepare a detailed outline plan for the village and to issue building permits to the village residents. The petition was submitted by ACRI Attorney Azem Bishara.

Hirbat Tana is an agricultural village located east of Beit Forik in the Nablus district. The livelihood of the village residents, including the petitioners, who have lived in the village for dozens of years, is based on the cultivation of land and the rearing of livestock. The village residents live in a variety of structures including brick structures, caves, stone buildings covered by tin roofs, and tents. The residents live in the village throughout the year, except for during a 2-month period in the summer when they temporarily move to the agricultural land in the area of Beit Furik. Despite the fact that Hirbat Tana has existed for many years, the village has never received official planning status, and the military authorities have never taken the time to prepare a detailed outline plan – a necessary prerequisite for obtaining building permits. On 5 July 2005, while the residents of the village were absent, the army destroyed the village of Hirbat Tana. The destruction included mass demolitions of structures, including the village school, with bulldozers. As a result the village was wiped out and its residents expelled from their place of residence, their land, and their source of livelihood. The only thing left at the site was an ancient mosque, and one additional structure. As a result of the destruction, some 20 families lost their homes and other structures. Some of the cave openings in the areas that are used by the residents as dwellings or for storage were blocked off.

Following the destruction of the village, ACRI and Rabbis for Human Rights together with other human rights organizations called on the Attorney General and the military authorities to hold an investigation into the destruction of the village. The authorities were also asked to provide residential alternatives to the residents whose homes were destroyed, and to enable the rebuilding of the village. After two months, the organizations received a response which stated that the buildings were destroyed because they were built without building permits, in an area defined, according to Mandatory plan S-15, as an agricultural area. Moreover, the buildings were constructed in firing range A904 and violated the military order declaring it to be a closed military area. The authorities insisted that the demolition orders and the warnings “were presented to the buildings` owners as required by law”, without saying how, when, by whom or to whom these orders were issued. The authorities categorically refused the request that a detailed outline plan be prepared for the village and that they desist from destroying any additional structures.

Attorney Bishara also states that contrary to state authority claims, the residents were not provided with any notification or demolition orders before the destruction of the buildings, which is in clear violation of due process, and denies the residents any opportunity to present their claims or even petition against the demolitions. As a result, it was argued, the orders were devoid of any legal validity. Moreover, the military firing range, which according to the army encompasses the village, has not been actively used for over 15 years. Although the area has been allocated for usage as a firing range in the past, it is inactive today and the land, upon which the structures were built, is owned by the residents. Nobody has ever objected to the residents` presence in this so-called closed area, in which the residents have cultivated lands and reared livestock for dozens of years.

Attorney Bishara further emphasizes that unlike the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, no plans have ever been authorized to allow the construction of new Palestinian villages. On the one hand, the Civil Administration has refused to prepare or modify outline plans for years, despite the changing needs of the Palestinian community and its natural population growth; on the other hand, the same authorities` claims that the Palestinian buildings are illegal are based on antiquated plans. .The military authorities use plans from the British mandate period only for Palestinian residents and only as an enforcement tool, whereas hundreds of detailed plans for Jewish settlements in the West Bank have been prepared and authorized. Thus, the authorities fail to honor their obligation to use the powers allocated to them without bias or arbitrariness, and to act to ensure the regularization of public life for the good of the protected persons who live in the occupied territories, while adapting the planning to the population’s way of life and their changing needs in accordance with international law. The destruction of homes and other buildings that are essential to the owners` livelihoods, Attorney Bishara adds, represents a severe violation of the right to dignity, renders the home owners destitute, violates their right to work and maintain a dignified existence, and undermines their right to ownership.

The demolition orders must be revoked, the petition states, on the grounds that they are based on the selective enforcement of the building and planning laws which relate to national origin. The same laws are not enforced in cases of Jewish citizens of Israel, who construct buildings and even neighborhoods illegally in the West Bank, as was documented in the recent report on illegal outposts by Attorney Talia Sason. The authorities do everything in their power to displace Palestinian residents from their land, to expropriate land, to declare land to be state land, while preparing and authorizing detailed plans for dozens of settlements for Jewish residents. While the demolition of Palestinian homes is presented as the proper adherence to the law, the destruction of buildings in illegal outposts is carried out, if at all, as a last resort, and only after exhaustive attempts to negotiate with their illegal inhabitants.

In response to the petition, the court has issued an interim injunction preventing the implementation of the demolition orders until a final verdict is handed down by the court.

last updated : 13/12/05

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Categories: Housing Rights, Social and Economic Rights, The Occupied Territories, The Right to Property

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