Lone Lawyer Battles Illegal Settlements

Michael Sfard Succeeds Where Diplomats and Politicians Fail

Rights Fighter: Michael Sfard has mounted a lonely legal battle to force the Israel government to crack down on illegal West Bank outposts built on Palestinian land, like Migron.
getty images
Rights Fighter: Michael Sfard has mounted a lonely legal battle to force the Israel government to crack down on illegal West Bank outposts built on Palestinian land, like Migron.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published May 06, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

He can do what the might of world leaders cannot.

After more than a decade of heavy pressure by the international community on Israel to demolish unauthorized Jewish outposts in the occupied West Bank, the state finally looks set to start the bulldozers rolling in at least one case, Migron. The man who forced Israel’s hand does not sit in Washington, Ramallah or at the United Nations, but in a shabby building in Tel Aviv.

Look at almost any case alleging that Jewish settlements in the West Bank infringe on Palestinian rights and you will find that Michael Sfard initiated the litigation. It is, he says, an addiction. “I cannot manage one day without doing this,” he told the Forward. “It has become a drug, and I am an addict.”

Michael Sfard
nathan jeffay
Michael Sfard

Unlike some other members of the Israel’s left, Sfard, 40, cannot bring himself to move abroad. He tried living in London but could not hack life as a “spectator.” He is a deep thinker on the subject of identity. Sfard calls himself “a sucker for the need to belong and for identity” and said he’s committed to raising his children in Israel. As a sort of penance, he decided to take on the settlements.

These days Sfard’s cases are always making headlines. On April 29 Israel’s cabinet approved a plan to build temporary housing elsewhere in the West Bank for the residents of Migron, built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land. Following a six-year legal battle, initiated by Sfard, Israel has now agreed to evacuate the religious Zionist settlement by August 1.

Earlier this year, Sfard secured a government promise to demolish 30 Beit El homes, also situated on privately owned Palestinian land near Ramallah. The demolition deadline was set for May 1, but as of press time the marked homes remained standing. “This is a disease — the government says one thing and does another. It is prepared to humiliate the court,” he said.

Sfard sees himself, together with the human rights and political groups with which he works, including Yesh Din and Peace Now, as taking on a role formerly filled by opposition parties. “[I]n the last eight years, we became in a way the dissenting voice in Israeli society — there is no real opposition, parliamentary opposition,” he said. “In the ’80s and ’90s, the leading figures in criticizing government policy were opposition members, but today opposition like Kadima has no moral weight.”

Sfard’s critics agree that he is fighting for a cause that isn’t well represented in the Knesset. But while Sfard sees his role as a duty, critics see it as “trying to bypass democracy,” said Likud lawmaker Danny Danon, a staunch defender of some of the targets of Sfard’s petitions. “He’s using the legal system because his ideas are not welcome in Israeli society,” Danon told the Forward.

Naftali Balanson, head of research at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based organization that reviews, often critically, the work of human rights organizations, commented: “Michael Sfard is at the center of the NGO industry that exploits the rhetoric of human rights in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.