Will Israel’s high court respect Palestinian family’s human rights?

Al-Aqaba village in the Jordan Valley. (Photo: Donna Baranski-Walker)

On the Fourth of July, when their American friends are on holiday, Israeli High Court Justice Esther Hayut will decide whether or not to demolish a Palestinian family’s home, their goat barns, and three other small businesses owned by other villagers. The plaintiffs, all residents of the Palestinian Village of al-Aqaba located in the Jordan Valley in Area C (the 62% of the Occupied West Bank that Israel solely controls), turn yet again to the Israeli courts with hope. Justice Hayut would do well to affirm the villagers’ fundamental human rights and freeze all demolition orders while the High Court considers a new master plan rightfully designed to include all the land the villagers own.

After having its first two master plans rejected, al-Aqaba filed a third master land-use plan on August 24, 2011, a compendium of maps and discussion detailing a vision for their village on a fraction of its land. In this most recent plan, al-Aqaba compromised on land area while projecting reasonable growth for their population, including displaced families returning home.

Homes in al-Aqaba. (Photo: Donna Baranski-Walker)

On June 23, 2012 al-Aqaba’s attorneys received a one-paragraph denial letter from the Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee and a one-page transcript of their meeting (originals in Hebrew, translation in English).

Instead of accepting the villager’s compromise, the Civil Administration accuses the village of designing a plan “for ‘koshering’ the illegal building that has been going on for years.” They completely ignore the Catch-22 that makes building permits unattainable: the Israeli Civil Administration refuses to issue any building permits without prior approval of a Master Land Use plan, and issues demolition orders when families could not wait; but, once again, they refuse to approve al-Aqaba’s Master Land Use Plan.

There’s more: The Civil Administration states that al-Aqaba Village is a designated live-fire military training area. From 1971 to 2001, the Israeli Army used this village of 1000 residents for live-fire training exercises, busting into homes and firing guns and rockets — all without provocation simply because “it looked like Lebanon.” Twelve people were killed and 36 wounded. The first victim was a 16 year old, shot three times by an Israeli soldier who later apologized. This man, in a wheelchair for life, is now the mayor of al-Aqaba, Haj Sami Sadek Sbaih, a man who despite all, remains deeply committed to peace.

That dark chapter in al-Aqaba’s history ended in 2001 when live-fire training was stopped at the Israeli High Court’s order. The Israeli Army signed a “No Fire” agreement [Hebrew original] with the village assuring that “the area for training will be made clear on a map [in advance], and their training will be without guns, with no shooting.” In 2002, the Israeli Army even dismantled and removed its camp from the village.

Mosque in the center of al-Aqaba. (Photo: Donna Baranski-Walker

The No Fire Agreement was respected over the years — until June 27 last week, when Israeli soldiers entered the village firing bullets and mortars at 2:00 AM in exercises right beside the village mosque and mayor’s home. Citizens and diplomats from all corners of the world pressed Israel to make the shooting stop. Thankfully the soldiers have not returned.

In the Civil Administration’s final argument, again ignoring ownership of private land, they suggest the Village of al-Aqaba move into an entirely different town. They say the nearby town of Tayaseer is equipped to provide city services. Here Mayor Haj Sami proudly counters:

Justice Hayuz, our city services are much better. We invite you to visit our medical clinic, our mosque with double minaret in the shape of a peace sign, the Ibn Rush’d Library, a state of the art kindergarten and an elementary school with a school bus bringing children from all the towns nearby, visiting English teachers, a thriving guesthouse, electricity, dumpsters, and regular garbage pick-up.

So what’s a fair decision? The Israeli High Court should immediately freeze all demolition orders; review land title boundaries for al-Aqaba and the surrounding area; and request then ratify al-Aqaba’s next Master Land Use Plan on all the land the village owns or leases. Then the Israeli High Court should recognize the village’s right to issue its own building permits in accordance with its master plan, just like any other town in the democratic world.

In this 45th year of occupation, the villagers’ human rights cannot be held hostage to on-again off-again political negotiation. They need houses now, not some distant day when the peace process is complete. Israel’s High Court must acknowledge al-Aqaba’s residents’ fundamental rights – the rights to housing, education, healthcare, and employment– in their town on the land they own. Justice Hayuz, why wait?

UPDATE: On July 4th, the Israeli High Court notified all parties as follows, “The Court gives the Israeli Planning Committee until the 14th of October to say why they want to demolish house and other structures.” Congratulations to the attorneys at the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) and all who intervened on al-Aqaba’s behalf. The Jaber family is deeply relieved — we have breathing room.

Editor’s Note: This post and headline was updated because of an inaccurate date and translation in first publication. An Israeli Civil Administration document was said to have called al-aqaba “demolished,” as a fait accompli. The word was mistranslated; but demolition orders still target the village.

About Donna Baranski-Walker

Donna Baranski-Walker is founder and Executive Director of Rebuilding Alliance, a U.S. Nonprofit based in Silicon Valley that helps Palestinian villages build affordable homes, schools and most recently, a birthing center and works to make them safe.

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13 Responses

  1. Watcher465
    July 4, 2012, 11:19 am

    There is no point asking What’s a fair decision. The Jews of Israel should not be allowed to use the word Justice until they understand what it means. That will never happen. Oh and the peace process was completed decades ago. Didn’t you know?
    Israel decided that Palestinians would never live in peace.

    • RebuildingAll
      July 4, 2012, 6:10 pm

      Donna here.
      I completely disagree. Israeli opinions are as disparate as those of Americans. People everywhere know what justice means and when we speak up, those who are overlooked or marginalized, find their voice.

      When I was first learning how to walk the halls of Congress and scheduled a first visit to State Department, I asked Craig Corrie how to think about this. He said, “Always give officials the opportunity to do the right thing.” Later Ghassan Abdullah added, “Too bad they need so many opportunities.”

  2. Bumblebye
    July 4, 2012, 12:31 pm

    Palestinians don’t have human rights. The end, according to Israel.
    EVERYTHING Israel does is ALL about transferring resources exclusively to Israeli Jews.
    Watch the mealy-mouthed minister blame the Palestinians for their own water shortages, and claim their water use damages the water supply for both Israelis and Palestinians.
    Taken from a Haaretz editorial (which is behind a paywall), denouncing plans for settlers to register West Bank land in their names, circumventing the official land registry, and with no way for Palestinian landowners to challenge.

    • RebuildingAll
      July 4, 2012, 5:35 pm

      Thanks for the heads-up. Here’s a link directly to Antony Loewenstein’s important article:
      Israel to begin recording settler land claims, deny Palestinians’ right of appeal

      Documents obtained by Haaretz indicate that new land registry process, which would bypass regular tabu listings, is official policy, with repercussions reviewed by top officials.

      Please don’t view this as a done deal, as there’s still a window open to keep this from happening. Am I the only one who takes hope from Israel’s High Court’s decision to recognize the rights of Palestinian landowners in the Migron and Beit El Ulpana decision?

      The first step with the proposed land theft registration process is to block it from becoming law. Today’s Haaretz editorial urges refusal to cooperate:

      Registering settlers’ rights to West Bank land is additional evidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fine words about a two-state solution and his desire to resume negotiations with the Palestinians are mere lip service. We can only hope that all his senior coalition partners, and above all Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who bears direct responsibility for the occupied territories, will refuse to cooperate with this maneuver.

      Let’s hope this proposal dies on the vine — and consider with care what actions Americans can take in support of those Israelis who will be working against this, and what role there is for diplomacy and law.

      • Bumblebye
        July 4, 2012, 8:14 pm

        Can’t get link to palestine-info to work, but according to their website, Israel is already issuing title deeds to Palestinian property and real estate to its companies in the West Bank. Apparently the Israeli courts reject any Palestinian objections when it’s a company involved.

        Why do you suggest any actions in support should be “considered with care”? It sounds like asking folk to tiptoe round the most egregious, outrageous, endless human rights abuses. Doing so hasn’t worked for 45 years. Surely it’s way past time to get louder and far more proactive. Else Israel continues until we get to “whoops, where’s Palestine gone?”

      • talknic
        July 4, 2012, 9:14 pm

        Am I the only one who takes hope from Israel’s High Court’s..

        The High Court has no legitimate jurisdiction in “territories occupied”.

      • ColinWright
        July 5, 2012, 1:37 am

        “Am I the only one who takes hope from Israel’s High Court’s decision to recognize the rights of Palestinian landowners in the Migron and Beit El Ulpana decision?”

        Yes. You are.

  3. Denis
    July 4, 2012, 1:39 pm

    For those who want to scope this out on G.Earth, it’s kind’a hard to find. As so often is the case, GE doesn’t do a good job at Islamic or Arab names, which are often translated into a plethora of English “words.”

    The Palestinian Aqaba is shown on GE, but you can’t find it with the search box. Enter these coordinates: 32°21’04.10″ N 35°20’57.48″ E

    I’m not sure how this is in Area C. From this 2011 UN map, it looks like Aqaba should be dead in the middle of Area (A),(B). http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_area_c_map_2011_02_22.pdf

    You can see from GE how ridiculous the suggestion is that Aqaba just pack it up and move to Tayasir — Tayasir is tiny in comparison.

    Somebody needs to tell these Zionist pricks to f— themselves. Is there an Israeli “Suggestion Box” somewhere where I can leave a note? I’ll do it in Hebrew if they don’t understand foul English. It’s time to end this “Area C” bs. It should be administered by the UN or Jordan. And all the land records reviewed and tidied up by an international body, including re-claiming lands grabbed by JNF. Oh, yeah . . . and no more polonium.

    Here’s the Wiki entry on Aqaba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Aqaba

  4. RebuildingAll
    July 4, 2012, 4:50 pm

    Actually, you’ve found your way to Aqqaba, which is indeed in Area A, not Al Aqaba Village. The coordinates for Al Aqaba Village are 32°20’10.90″N, 35°25’6.28″E, just East of Tajaseer.

    It is easy to be confused by the names. When I first set-out to visit Al Aqaba in 2003, I asked the UN for help to get me there (everyone who had tried was turned back at the checkpoints). We too got confused and went to Aqqaba, a municipality in Area A, instead.

    Here’s a better way to follow the ups and downs of Palestinian villages: Lea Park has been volunteering with our mapping team. She developed a Palestine Crisis Map using Ushahidi technology from Kenya. Click on the Get Alerts tab to be notified when a place you care about is in the news.

    • Denis
      July 5, 2012, 1:29 am

      Good thing I’m just on GE sitting at my desk, I coulda’ got lost out there in the desert. Al Aqaba is a tiny little place after all.

      GE, them dummies, they have Aqqaba listed as Aqaba. I think the problem is with the language — too many “q’s” and not enough “u’s” to go around.

      I saw that Crisis Map on your site — brilliant work. I was trying to keep up with all the Israeli apartheid atrocities on my site, but now I’ll just link up to you and maybe not be so depressed all the time trying to keep up. Great work, whatever Ushahidi technology from Kenya is. Too bad Obama didn’t stay there when he was born — he could have plugged into that career path, become a programmer, and saved us all a lot of disappointment.

      Switching back and forth between the GE map for Al Aqaba for 2010 and 2004 I am struck by how much development has taken place. Quite a few new roads pop up in the 2010 image.

      Of course, the resolution on GE for Israel is too low to see the destroyed homes shown in the photo above.

      I recall in the late 90’s Israel was able to pressure the US govt to pass a law against obtaining high resolution images of the country. Here it is . . . I just found this Mother Jones article: As they say: “There is one entire country, however, that Google Earth won’t show you: Israel.”

      This is the arrogance of Israel. They look at the rest of the world with ultra-high resolution imaging, but demand the nobody looks at them with less than 1 meter pixelation.

      This PC Mag article has more detail. Under the National Defense Authorization Act, US companies can only acquire images of Israel where a pixel is not less than 1 meter square.

      I’m sorry for getting off topic on this, but I would love to be able to see your kindergarten.

  5. RebuildingAll
    July 5, 2012, 5:32 am

    We are all awaiting word of the High Court’s decision. The Jaber family’s youngest child is in the hospital in Nablus with possibly heat stroke, and his mother is there too. Matt wrote, “The little boy should be coming home today or tomorrow, inshallah.”

    The lawyers with call Mayor Haj Sami when they hear.

    Two Americans, a Swede, and an Australian are staying in the village now. They plan to call their respective consulates to request they come on a “welfare visit” to Al Aqaba, especially today if possible.

  6. seafoid
    July 5, 2012, 10:19 am

    Mondo- get the finger out- get this up so that everyone can see it

    The settlers have defeated the moderates . It is all out in the open now.

    1. Burston disowns Zionism


    It was not only Shamir that we buried this week. When he went, he took Zionism with him. When that university is declared, Zionism in all of its meanings will have run its course. Israel will have cemented its rule over the West Bank. There is nothing more to conquer, and no need to formally annex.
    It’s time to let Zionism rest in peace. Zionism, in the person of this government, is unwilling to give the Palestinians a fair shot at a state. Not because the Palestinians’ current leadership is inappropriate, nor because rockets may follow. But because Zionism, in the mold of Yitzhak Shamir, never, ever believed in anything other than Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah. We translate it as Greater Israel, but Shamir’s faith was more literal, exacting, closer to the Hebrew – the Whole, the Complete – the Completed Israel.

    2 The settlers crow


    The unoccupied territories
    The biggest news story of the week, perhaps of the year, slipped under the media radar yesterday: Edna Adato of Israel Hayom revealed the main points of a report drafted by the Committee to Examine the State of Construction in Judea and Samaria, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levi. The report touches upon the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and makes sense of the matter. One can say that the government received permission to toss attorney Talia Sasson’s report on settlement outposts into the dustbin of history.

    Levi’s report concludes that Israel has the right to settle Jews in Judea and Samaria, and that it is incorrect to say that building settlements is illegal according to international law: “According to international law Israelis have the legal right to settle in all of Judea and Samaria, and at the very least in territories under Israeli control based on agreements with the Palestinian Authority; and therefore the creation of settlements in and of itself is not an illegal act.”

    The committee also concludes: “From the viewpoint of international law, statutes regarding the ‘occupation’ are inapplicable due to the special legal and historical circumstances regarding the decades-long Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria.”

    Since the 1970s, senior jurists in Israel and abroad have argued that Israel is completely within its rights to settle its citizens in Judea and Samaria. Among them are the President of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Judge Stephen Schwebel; Prof. Elihu Lauterpacht of Cambridge University; and Prof. Eugene Rostow, the former Deacon at Yale’s school of law, all of whom, along with others, have voiced their clear opinions in regards to Israel’s just claim over Judea and Samaria within the historical and legal circumstances.

    Since the Six-Day War, however, Israel has refrained from declaring the permanent status of the territories it won, excluding Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

    Into this vacuum Chief Justice Aharon Barak and others inserted the legal paradigm of “Belligerent Occupation,” according to which military governance draws its authority from the rules of international law in territories that were won in war. The significance is that Israel is deemed, allegedly, to be a foreign occupier, and it doesn’t have the right to apply its sovereignty over, or to move its civilian population into, those territories.

    Some of the measures which hostile legal bodies have taken against the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria stemmed from this perception. These measures, which aimed at strangling the settlement enterprise, received justification from the State Prosecutor’s Office due to its adoption of the Belligerent Occupation paradigm, despite the current government’s many objections.

    If the territories aren’t occupied, the Left has argued over the years, they must be annexed, including the populations there. But the reality isn’t a polar one, it is complex. The current report recognizes an intermediate reality: At hand is a disputed territory; two entities hold it; none of the sides is considered an “occupier.” There is disagreement regarding ownership, which needs to be clarified through different means, but there is no definition of “occupation” in the international legal sense of the word.

    A perception of Belligerent Occupation occurs when one country conquers the territories of another country. In our case, the last sovereign power was the British Mandate, which received its legitimacy from the League of Nations to create a national home for the Jews in the Land of Israel.

    The Jordanian occupation was never recognized (aside from Britain and Pakistan), and Israel never conquered “Jordanian territory.” Moreover, Jordan renounced its sovereignty over these territories toward the late 1980s.

    Another dramatic point in the report is its stance on communities which were built without a government decision (“Unauthorized”). The report concludes that because their creation and development occurred with the knowledge, encouragement and agreement of the most senior government echelons, “this conduct must be considered to be ‘authorization.'”

    Therefore, “the act of eviction from these communities is impractical and a different solution must be found, such as compensation or alternative land offers. For this reason the committee has suggested to the state that it refrain from carrying out demolition orders in these communities, which it is in essence responsible for creating.”

    If the government adopts the report’s conclusions, it means that the folks working with Mike Blass over at the State Prosecutor’s Office will no longer be able to deny, in the state’s name, the existence of these communities and won’t be able to advance their destruction through dry legal claims.

    The government has taken a great step in the right direction on this matter, much to the chagrin of the enemies of the settlement enterprise, and to the joy of its supporters, comprising most of the Jewish population in Israel.

    Now a world war will ensue against the report and against Levi.

    All the old arguments and slandering tactics will be dusted off and put to use; left-wing organizations will enlist the help of their friends from across the globe, and the alienated juridical elite will fight against the most natural thing to us as a people: the return to our homeland, the cradle of our nationhood.

    There is no need to become over-excited; this is exactly what this government was elected for. It is the will of most of the people, and it is also a historical decree.

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