JERUSALEM (Jun. 20)
The Supreme Court ordered a halt today to the construction of Alon Moreh, the controversial Gush Emunim settlement near Nablus and gave the government 30 days to show cause why the settlement should not be removed and the Arab lands expropriated for it returned to the owners. The temporary injunction was issued after a panel of three justices heard testimony in an appeal by 17 Arabs from the Nablus area against the seizure of their land. The court forbade any new settlers from taking up residence at the site while the injunction is in effect.
Although the court’s ruling has doubtlessly embarrassed the government, legal experts here expressed the opinion that the government eventually will prevail over the appellants by correcting the defective legal procedures by which the land was confiscated. The appeal was based on the contention that the government’s claim that the settlement is necessary for security reasons was false and that the land owners never received a legally valid notice of seizure.
The most dramatic highlight of today’s hearing was the testimony by two reserve generals Haim Barlev, a former Chief of Staff and Matityahu Peled, flatly contradicting a statement signed by the current Chief of Staff, Gen. Raphael Eytan, which claimed that Alon Moreh was of strategic importance to ‘Israel’s defense. Eytan signed the statement yesterday and it was read to the court today. He claimed that the hill on which Alon Moreh is located controls communications in the Samaria region of the West Bank and therefore is vital to security.
But Barlev, who was Chief of Staff after the Six-Day War and is presently Secretary of the Labor Party, declared in a written statement that Alon Moreh does not contribute to the security of the State because it is located for from any major roads and is in the heart of a heavily Arab populated region. He stated further that, in the event of war the settlement will not be able to defend the road to Nablus and that in any case, there is a military base not for away that controls the network of roads around Nablus. The some view was expressed by Peled who is a leader of the Sheli faction.
CHIEF OF STAFF CRITICIZED
Their statements were presented under oath by Elias Khouri, on Israeli Arab attorney representing the appellants. Such was not the case with Eytan’s testimony which was introduced only as a written statement. This aroused the ire of Justice Moshe Landau who expressed astonishment that the government did not find it necessary to bring the Chief of Staff to testify. With all due respect for the Chief of Staff, there is no special legal procedure for him, “Landau said. He noted that the appellants questioned the honesty of the security argument and “we have no dental to that under oath” Observers noted that the State did not produce Defense Minister Ezer Weizman to testify. Weizman was one of the minority in the Cabinet who voted against Alon Moreh.
The land at the Alon Moreh site was seized last week “for security purposes.” A group of Gush settlers rushed to the scene where, protected by the army and provided with earth-moving equipment, tents and prefabricated huts by the World Zionist Organization’s settlement department, they proceeded to build an access road and lay the foundations for the settlement. Apart from the controversy over the settlement’s security value, the Supreme Court appeared to accept the appellants’ complaint that they had not received legal notice of the expropriation of their land. “The proper way to seize land is to notify the landowners before the actual seizure,” Justice Landau said.
ALON MOREH SETTLERS COUNTED
Meanwhile, the Military Governor of Nablus visited Alon Moreh today to count the number of settlers. His intention was to ascertain that no more enter the settlement in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders. There are presently about 15 families and a number of single males at the site. The Military Governor acted as the Gush Emunim attempted to reinforce the settlement. Several dozen Gush vehicles carrying would-be settlers were stopped by the army and turned back several miles from the site.
Likud hardliners were gravely distressed by the Supreme Court’s ruling and a number of them are blaming Defense Minister Weizman. They allege that Weizman had prevailed upon the Chief of Staff not to submit a sworn statement on the alleged security value of Alon Moreh but only a signed letter. That was one of the technicalities that resulted in the Supreme Court’s injunction. One Likud MK, Yigael Hurwitz, demanded today that Weizman resign or that Premier Menachem Begin demand his resignation. He charged that Weizman was willfully undermining the government’s settlement policy and the Likud Party platform.