23 March 1997

LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment PO Box 20873 Jerusalem, via Israel Tel: (972) (2) 5812364/5824559 Fax: (972) (2) 5811072 email:

It took just one minute for the Israeli High Court to decide to reject Mahmoud Matour's and Hamdi Shehadeh's petition to halt the demolition of their homes located in Sair village, outside of Hebron. Matour built his house over three years ago and nine members of his family have been living there since. Shehadeh built his house two years ago and his wife and four young children live there today. Shehadeh's wife is in her eighth month of pregnancy. The decision was issued by the President of the Supreme Court Aaron Barak, and Justices Benish and Zamir.

After the decision, Matour turned to LAW's attorney and asked, "Where will I live now?"

The government argued that the houses must be demolished because they were built in an agricultural area and without a permit. The court accepted this argument despite the fact that the area was declared an agricultural zone in 1942 under the British Mandate, and that the current owners of the land as well as their neighbors, had stopped cultivating the land many years ago. LAW's attorney argued that while fifty years ago there may have been a public interest in designating the land as an agricultural area, today the Israeli occupation authorities either had an obligation to rezone the area or leave the houses standing until the Palestinian Authority took control over the area. LAW's attorney further argued that the Israeli government was acting in bad faith with its claim that the houses should be demolished because they are located in an agricultural zone since the Israeli army has planned to rezone the land in a month in order to pave a bypass road for Jewish settlers. Finally, LAW's attorney contended that the court should also consider the humanitarian issue of demolishing two finished homes standing for over two years and which provide shelter for two large families, including a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy.

After twenty minutes of oral argument, the court's justices conferred for one minute and Justice Barak issued the decision on the spot, rejecting the petition and approving the immediate demolition of the two homes.

Today, at least 70% of the West Bank (Area C) remains under Israeli control. The Israeli authorities have classified most of the suitable areas for building in Area C as agricultural land (using the 1942 British Mandate plan), in order to justify demolishing the homes. LAW believes that Israel's house demolition policy is an attempt to ethnically cleanse these areas of Palestinians before the final status talks begin. Therefore, LAW calls on all concerned parties to write immediately to their Israeli ambassador and to the Israeli Minister of Defense, Y. Mordechai, , Kaplan St. Hakirya, Tel Aviv 67659-fax:972-3-6916940 and call for the immediate halt to the demolition of Mahmoud Matour's and Hamdi Shehadeh's homes and to Israeli's house demolition/ethnic cleansing policies.