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Summary of court hearing on the petition to stop the tender to lease building plots in the village of Lifta

posted Jul 9, 2011, 12:22 PM by Lifta Society   [ updated Jul 9, 2011, 12:41 PM ]
Administrative Petition 8661-03-11
By Sami Ersheid, Esq.
Following a petition filed on March 6, 2011, Judge Yigal Marzel issued an interim injunction ordering the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) to freeze the publication of the results of a tender offering to lease plots for construction in the village of Lifta. The petition was filed by lawyer Sami Ersheid on behalf of Jerusalem activists including natives of Lifta, the Sons of Lifta Society, Rabbis for Human Rights and the Jafra Association for the Development and Conservation of the Built Heritage and its Environment in the Arab Cities and Villages in the Country.
In their petition against the ILA the petitioners requested the court's intervention to prevent the transfer of properties and land in Lifta to private hands to build a luxury real estate project and stop destruction of the village, which constitutes the last testimony to the Arab villages and cultural landscape that were prevalent in Israel through the ages until the beginning of the 20th century.
According to the petitioners, "in the present status according to which Lifta is an abandoned village and its original owners live as refugees only hundreds of meters from their village, all construction at the site should be avoided and especially construction that will destroy the village and totally dispossess its original residents from their rights." The petitioners go on to write that "marketing plots for construction in the village of Lifta and the consequent construction of new buildings on the village's land instead of the existing village would undermine the conservation of the existing village and the possibility of reconstructing the historic structure of the village with all it entails."
The petitioners ask the court to order the cancellation of the tender to sell plots in Lifta and order the ILA to avoid any action that would harm the site's physical and cultural heritage, until completion of a comprehensive planning procedure for the village area, including planning for the conservation of the site in accordance with professional standards with public participation.
Attached to the petition was a professional opinion by five senior architects and experts on conservation and planning, as to severe conservation flaws in the tender. The opinion said that the ILA's tender does not meet the accepted criteria of conservation in Israel and the world, and that the full data does not exist that would permit the marketing of plots and issuing of building permits. The authors of the opinion say the tender process must be frozen until completion of a complete documentation of Lifta, preparation of a construction and development plan and conclusion of a development plan between the ILA and the Jerusalem Municipality.
At the judge's request, both the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) were asked to respond to the petition. At a court hearing on Wednesday, May 11, the judge asked the representative of the IAA whether his response to the court did not constitute confirmation that the tender was issued before the necessary mapping was performed and whether it would not have been preferable to conduct a detailed conservation survey before releasing the land for tender. In the IAA's response, its lawyer said that there were similar cases when a tender was issued first and only then was a survey conducted, and that the IAA reserves the right to stop building even after the land is bought by private developers. However, after the judge asked whether in such a case the considerations are identical to the ones made before a tender, the IAA representative admitted that when there is a private developer who invested money his property rights have to be balanced with the conservation needs.
The judge asked the ILA lawyer why the ILA is rushing to issue the land for tender. She answered that there is a housing shortage in Jerusalem and that the plan had been approved after objections by all the relevant committees. Judge Marzel suggested to the ILA representatives that they cancel the tender.
At the request of the ILA's lawyer, the judge issued an extension until May 22 to receive the ILA's response. Meanwhile, the ILA asked for three extensions to submit its response which is scheduled to be submitted this week.