A controversy that has spanned three Israeli prime ministers and almost a decade may come to an end soon if residents of the West Bank settlement Migron obey a court order and evacuate the land they've been living on since 1999.
However, evacuation looks unlikely at this time because Israel seems undecided about how much force should be used to dismantle the illegal community and how to relocate settlers to another area of the West Bank.
Migron has been a thorn in the side of the government since before Israel's High Court decided in 2011 that the land had been stolen from Palestinian landowners and settlers must evacuate immediately. Earlier this month, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot ordered evacuation of the settlement by Tuesday, Aug. 28. That didn't happen, and on Wednesday the date was pushed again to Sept. 4.
Confusingly, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that evacuations would be "carried out in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision" and called for "civility," although his government has remained mum on what exactly its plans are.
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An editorial in Haaretz yesterday about the ongoing controversy called the settlers "infiltrators" and "law breakers" and said, "The extensive publicity the outpost has received has turned it into a test case for the rule of law and Israeli justice in the occupied territories."
Seventeen families had petitioned the court this week to stay in Migron, saying they had legally purchased their lots from Palestinian sellers.
The court ruling Wednesday said, "The purchasers have nothing more than a purchase," according to Haaretz.
The ruling continued, "...the construction did not correspond to an authorized building plan; that the outpost wasn't within the jurisdiction of any council; that the government never official decided to erect the settlement; and that it was condemned by a final demolition order."
Meanwhile, according to the Jerusalem Post, construction in Migron continued Tuesday night.
Migron is home to about 300 settlers, mostly Orthodox Jewish people, who live in scattered mobile homes. It is adjacent to the Palestinian villages Burqa and Deir Dibwan, where the alleged true owners of the land live (or lived — some have died and bequeathed the land to relatives.)
The settlement has received a flood of government money over the years, despite the High Court deeming it an illegal settlement for the first time in 2003, when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced the first of the unmet evacuation deadlines.
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In 2006 an Israeli activist group called Peace Now, which advocates the two-state solution, took up the case and petitioned the High Court on behalf of the Palestinians who claimed they owned the land.
The Israeli government conceded at that time that there had never been authorization to build on the site, although the infrastructure for Migron, which includes electricity, water, sewage, a synagogue, a school, a daycare center, and later a new cell tower, was paid for and constructed by the Housing Ministry as well as the Israeli Defense Forces.
Looking through the history of Migron, the biggest controversy isn't that Israeli settlers have constructed an illegal outpost in the Occupied West Bank with money from the government. That's common.
But the documents used to convince the government that Migron was legally purchased may have been elaborately forged. This accusation has become a focal point in the most recent court battle between the settlers and Peace Now.
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According to an in-depth investigation by the Associated Press in 2008, the Migron land is owned by a company called El-Watan, established by the settlement's founders. The investigation found evidence that these settlers actually seized the land and used a dead man's name to falsify sales documents.
The AP story quotes Itay Harel, a social worker who lives in Migron, who "insisted the sale was legitimate, although he refused to discuss it in detail. He also made clear that from the settlers' perspective, the sale was beside the point."
Harel echoed the familiar settlers' argument that any communities built in the West Bank are Biblically legal. "This land belongs to the people of Israel, who were driven off it by force," Harel said. "No Palestinian had a rightful claim to any part of the West Bank."