Israel’s high court says state has responsibility to find alternative for the 27 families living in the West Bank village of Zanuta in the southern Hebron Hills.
Israel’s High Court ruled on Monday that the state has 30 days to provide a solution for residents of the West Bank village of Zanuta, which is scheduled for demolition because it was built on an archeological site.
The village in the southern Hebron Hills is the home of 27 families. In 2007, the residents filed a joint petition to the High Court of Justice with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel requesting that the Civil Administration complete a detailed construction plan for them, and received an interim order from the court.
In a hearing that took place on Monday, the residents’ legal representative Nira Shalev said, “The residents have been in this place since before 1967, and it is the duty of the army to regularize construction in this location.”
A state legal representative, Yitzhak Bar, said that there is no possibility of regularizing buildings in the village, because it is built on an archeological site. Judge Hanan Meltzer said that the state has a responsibility to find an alternative solution. He said it was not as simple as demolishing, “but we don’t know where they will go.”
“The role of a military governor is to find a solution.” he said.
Judge Edna Arbel added, “It is advisable to think in advance where they will go, not afterwards.”
The state representative responded saying that it was not the responsibility of the military authority to find a solution. At the end of the hearing, the judges ordered the state to announce a solution within 30 days, and to announce whether or not they were planning to regularize building on the site.
Zanuta, like other small Palestinian villages in the area, existed as a cave-settlement before the West Bank was occupied by Israel. Archaeological findings reveal that Zanuta had been inhabited continuously from the Byzantine to the Ottoman period, until eventually being reduced to “a settlement of shepherds and fellahs living in the remains of the ancient structures and the residential caves alongside them,” as archaeologist Dr. Avi Ofer described it. Once the caves began to crumble and became unsafe, the residents of Zanuta set up improvised structures and tents at ground level.
The Civil Administration states that the site was declared an archaeological site at the time of the British Mandate. The Administration found that the village’s improvised structures, which were built without permits (in the absence of a master plan), are located directly on top of the center of the archaeological site, and that one of the structures is inside an ancient structure excavated by an archaeology staff officer in 2005.
In the past year, the High Court of Justice has been asked to rule on the state’s intentions to demolish at least 12 villages south of Hebron (Susia, Dekaika, Bir al-Id, Saala and eight villages that have been declared part of army firing zone No. 918) located in Area C, which is under Israeli control, and force their residents to move to Areas A and B, which are under Palestinian civil control.