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!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • 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.