Postponement and justice

Here are some things a lawyer who works with communities in the Jordan Valley told me. For context, the communities he is defending are small and usually in tents or other shack-like structures. They get demolished, they rebuild, sometimes they move around, and back and forth it often goes.

This whole game is played by first requesting a building permit:

1. Apply for building permit, which requires that you collect the necessary documents, carry out a survey, etc.  

2. Then, after they deny it, you take it to the Appeals Committee

3. Then, after they deny it, to the Supreme Court, where it can sit for as long as 2 years

4.Then, after they deny it, usually on the grounds that the area is not designated for residential purposes. Arguments about long standing pastoral connection are ignored, all the games around Jordanian law are ignored, etc. They say, in the end, this is not a place for living, go to Area A or B. So you withdraw the petition and ask for 30 – 60 days to prepare a zoning plan.

5. Then, apply for a total re-zoning of the area to the planning committee.

Of course, there are other things that can happen that can extend or shorten this process. For example, liberal judges are more open to these petitions, and conservative judges who are not. In the case I was looking at—and this is very surprising to the lawyer I was talking to—the judge accepted his statement that they can't demolish the tents again because the people would have no where else to go. 

This process can also go the total opposite direction. There is one judge who is a settler from Gush Etzion. There was another case this lawyer was working on where she (the settler judge) basically said ‘so I'm thinking of just not issuing any more injunctions, because the applications you send are clearly to waste time and not based on any substantial legal position’, which led to the response of ‘so announce that Palestinians are not subject to the law (or something like that)’ which led to other judges to quickly move the discussion elsewhere. In another worrying development, under right wing pressure the Court now has to decide cases within a year, which closes up the delay time even more.  

If people move to a different plot of land after their homes are demolished and build new ones, the army is legally required to issue new demolition orders. So in this particular case, people rebuilt their homes in another area close by the site of the demolition, and the army immediately came again and demolished them. This was illegal, they should have issued new orders, so they got a freeze on the demolition of the new units, or rather, a temporary injunction. However, this can also work in the opposite direction. One of the residents of this community, who was coordinating much of the legal effort, lost track of which structures were given which orders. 

It is impossible to ‘win’. Of the 300 or 400 responses he has gotten from the court, never once has a building permit been approved. 

This is all exhausting. So much energy, time, etc. this takes from lawyers, petitioners, people. In theory this could go on indefinitely? He said, “yes, until our side or their side runs out of energy.”  It is 99% dark and 1% light, he said, and we try to make that 1% flexible. 

The legal struggle is never about justice. Its always about delay.