1) Documents Reveal Illegal West Bank Building Project
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz
2) The Real Organized Crime
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz
3) The Hong Kong Trick
By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz
4) Mofaz’s Responsibility
1) Documents Reveal Illegal West Bank Building Project
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz
Illegal permits were issued retroactively for a new West Bank project while buildings were being constructed or even completed, according to documents Haaretz has obtained.
The project is the Modi’in Illit settlement neighborhood of Matityahu East, which is being built on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Bil’in.
An eyewitness reported that the illicit construction is proceeding, despite recent instructions from the settlement’s planning and construction committee to stop the work.
The military government’s Civil Administration chief planner, Shlomo Moskovitch, admitted the building permits for the new neighborhood Matityahu East in Modi’in Illit were issued illegally.
In another document the project’s entrepreneur claims Modi’in Illit council head Yaakov Guterman promised he would issue building permits before the planning and construction committee dealt with the requests, as required.
The new neighborhood is being built on the private land of the Palestinian village Bil’in. The land was purchased by land dealers through dubious powers of attorney, then rezoned as state land and leased or sold to settlers’ building companies.
The construction of the separation fence prompted the purchasers to implement their “rights” by hastily fixing facts on the ground.
Justice Ministry sources said Monday that a “preliminary examination” conducted by the Civil Administration indicated the illegal construction in the neighborhood was stopped at the instruction of the local planning and construction committee of Modi’in Illit.
However, a Peace Now representative who visited the site that day reported the construction was proceeding as usual.
Earlier, the state advised the High Court of Justice that 750 housing units had already been built, and 520 out of them had been marketed. The state admitted the project consisted of “partially illegal building.”
The 1998 master plan for the Modi’in Illit area shows the private land of Bil’in village included within the development plans for the year 2020.
Documents in Haaretz’s possession show the rampant illegal construction is just the tip of the iceberg in a much graver affair.
Purchasing’ the land
On June 16, 2002 attorney Moshe Glick, who represents a settlers’ association called the Society of the Foundation of the Land of Israel Midrasha Ltd. declared to attorney Doron Nir Zvi: “I hereby submit this sworn statement in the place of the mukhtar [head] of Bil’in. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Muhammad Ali Abed al-Rahman Bournat is the owner of the plot known as Bloc 2 Plot 134 in the village of Bil’in.”
On November 16, 2003, Glick signed another sworn statement. The new statement was aimed at explaining the strange occurrence of an Israeli attorney swearing under oath, a procedure that is parallel to sworn testimony in a court, in the place of the mukhtar of an Arab village. From the new statement it emerges that Glick never set foot on the land to which his statement relates. “This sworn statement comes in place of a statement by the mukhtar of the village of Bil’in, as, because of the security situation, there is a real danger to the life of any Jew who tries to enter the village of Bil’in (and needless to say especially when it is a matter of the purchase of land). Moreover, there is a prohibition by the authorities forbidding Israeli citizens to enter Areas A and B.”
The Civil Administration confirmed Monday that the village of Bil’in is located in Area B, which is under Israel’s full security control, and that Israeli citizens are allowed to visit there.
On the same day that Glick signed the sworn statement, the well-known land dealer Shmuel Anav appeared before him and also signed a sworn statement pertaining to that same plot. Anav, too, explained that the reasons it was impossible to bring an authorization by the mukhtar are the “security situation” and the prohibition on entering areas A and B.
Anav also declared that “the owner sold [the land] to his son and the son sold it to the Society of the Foundation.” The owner died several years ago. His son, Sami, who according to inhabitants of Bil’in forged their signatures, was murdered in Ramallah at the beginning of 2005. Had the police taken the claim of the Bil’in inhabitants seriously and examined the sworn statements given in their mukhtar’s name, they would have found that Anav’s name has been linked to dubious land deals that turned out to be land theft.
After the “purchase,” the Society of the Foundation transferred the land as a trust to the Civil Administration, which “converted” it into state land and leased it back to a settlers’ building concern.
A year and a half ago, when former Civil Administration head Brigadier General Ilan Paz found out about the method of converting private Palestinian land into state land, then leasing or selling it to a building company – a process approved by the State Prosecution – he issued a written order to shut down the “land laundry.”
These plots of land have already been used for building dozens of Jewish settlements and others are awaiting purchasers.
The master plan
Researchers from B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and from Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights, have obtained the map of “The Master Plan of the Modi’in Illit Area for the Year 2020.”
The map confirms that not only security issues, if at all, guided the separation fence planners when they charted its route in the Bil’in area. The map was prepared in 1998 at the Housing Ministry’s initiative with the Civil Administration’s planning bureau and the Modi’in Illit and Mateh Binyamin councils.
The plan does not have statutory validity, but is a guiding document for the planning policy for a given area, and the master plans are formulated in its spirit.
The report shows that some 600 dunams next to the plan for Matityahu East, owned by a few Bil’in families, is slated for the construction of 1,200 new housing units for settlers. Less than two months ago Bil’in’s inhabitants discovered a new road had been cut through from the Matityahu East neighborhood to a large grove of olive trees in the area.
This confirms the fears that the separation fence is really intended to implement the master plan from seven years ago.
Stopping the construction
About a month ago, after Haaretz published the first part of the research, the Civil Administration demanded Modi’in Illit council issue orders to stop the construction work.
On Sunday the Civil Administration advised attorney Michael Sfard, who represents the residents of Bil’in, that the local planning committee had ordered the construction to stop. Sfard wrote to the Civil Administration that Dror Etkes, the head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project, visited the construction site and saw the construction work was proceeding at an even greater pace. In addition, Etkes noticed the houses were filling with inhabitants.
Sfard said he intended to petition to the High Court of Justice against the Civil Administration for inaction – in addition to the petition about the fence and the neighborhood separating Bil’in’s residents from their land.
2) The Real Organized Crime
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz
With full panoply, the government on Sunday appointed Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to head a new team that will formulate a policy for fighting serious organized crime. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it was reported, said at the government meeting that “it is necessary to relate to the war against crime and violence as a war on terror.” No less. He promised that the new plan for the war on serious crime will make it possible to amplify the fight against organized crime and reinforce cooperation among the law-enforcement authorities.
Following is an up-to-date collection of some of the most organized criminal acts in the country, or more precisely – in territories under its control. In all of these affairs, the state authorities, the Civil Administration and the heads of local councils are turning a blind eye to daylight robbery.
At the High Court of Justice deliberations are underway on petitions submitted by Peace Now concerning a number of illegal outposts – Emunah, Harsha and Hayovel. In its reply to the petitions, the state has admitted that not only are these outposts illegal, but also that all of them or some of them have been established on private land belonging to the Palestinian neighbors. These outposts could not have been established without help from the authorities, whether in funding for infrastructures by the local councils or by the authorities responsible for planning and supervising construction in the Civil Administration turning a blind eye. According to the Sasson report, the Housing and Construction Ministry funded the establishment of infrastructures at Emunah to the tune of NIS 2.1 million, without authorization from the government or the defense minister for its erection, without any government or public body having allocated land for it and without planning status.
If the attorney general were to rummage through the Civil Administration files, he would find hundreds of work stoppage orders and hundreds of demolition orders for illegal structures at the outposts. What is common to all of these orders is that the defense minister does not approve their implementation. And how does the Civil Administration brush off nuisances like Peace Now that try to protect the rights of Abdullah, the person whose land has overnight become an outpost (to exemplify the gravity of the crime, it is recommended to imagine that his name is Menachem and the stolen land is located in the heart of Tel Aviv)? For this the State Prosecutor’s Office has invented the term “security considerations.” Experience teaches that usually the courts, among them the High Court of Justice, cannot resist these magic words.
The Emunah petition to the High Court of Justice is one of the rare instances in which the court has decided to put the “security considerations” to the test. This was after the State Prosecutor’s Office stated that the defense minister had ordered the demolition of the nine permanent structures, which had been erected without a permit, at the outpost next to Ofra, no later than the end of January, 2006. And as always, a reservation was added to the statement: The demolition of the buildings would be carried out “unless the security situation does not permit this.” Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia accepted the request of attorney Michael Sfard, who represents the petitioners, to subject Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s security considerations to judicial review. On her orders he is required to set out for her in detail by Thursday the “security situation,” including preparations for evacuation.
And after all this, a senior source at the Civil Administration is prepared to wager that no outpost will be moved until the elections. A clue to the connection between crime and politics can be found in the state’s response to the Peace Now petition in the matter of the illegal outposts Harsha and Hayovel. After the state acknowledged the outposts were not legal and after the usual excuse of “security considerations” and after “planning considerations,” the attorney general’s representative requested consideration of “the political circumstances that prevail at this time, and especially the fact that a real possibility exists that elections will be held within a period of about four months.”
Squatters in the park
Another example of the cooperation among the military authorities, the Civil Administration and the State Prosecutor’s Office can be found every day in the Nahal Prat (Wadi Kelt) Nature Reserve. A few years ago Rachel Yisrael, the daughter of MK Uri Ariel (National Union) squatted with members of her family in an abandoned building in the nature reserve. More than two years ago the trustee of abandoned and government property in the Civil Administration issued an evacuation order, which stipulated that their living in the area of a closed reserve was contrary to the rules of behavior in reserves and to the nature preservation policy, and was also liable to be a criminal violation under Provision 12 of the Nature Preservation order.
And what has the Parks Authority done? It is continuing to employ Yisrael as warden in that reserve. And the State Prosecutor’s Office? Every time the matter goes back to the High Court of Justice for a final ruling on a petition against the warden and the guardians of the law, it asks for another postponement.
Apparently there is no crime more organized than the affair of Matityahu East, a new neighborhood in Modi’in Illit in the West Bank, right on the course of the disputed fence in the area of the village of Bil’in. In recent weeks it has been reported here that the Civil Administration and the State Prosecutor’s Office have confirmed that hundreds of apartments are being built there without permit, among them some that have gone up on private land purchased in shady ways. Following this, Haaretz has received two astounding documents that reveal the criminals’ modes of operation and the help they receive from the state.
In the first of these documents, from March 15, 2003, Leon Ben David from the PPM construction company writes to the head of the Modi’in council, Yaakov Gutterman: “We have embarked on the Matityahu East project after receiving your blessing for getting building permits for approximately 1,500 housing units according to the urban construction plan that is in force, and in accordance with the above agreement we have sold plots to the Hefzibah company and it is selling apartments to purchasers.”
The entrepreneur’s representative asks the head of the council to instruct the council engineer “to implement the agreements between us and issue building permits as agreed.” In the second document, from September 9, 2004, Shlomo Moskowitz, the director of the planning bureau at the Civil Administration, reveals to Shmuel Heisler, the internal controller of the Modi’in council, that “the permits that were given in Matityahu East were without a doubt given contrary to the instructions of the plan that is in force and therefore without the authority of the licensing authority. The justification for issuing the licenses [as reported to me verbally] was establishing facts on the ground and preventing the Hefzibah company from leaving the site.”
In short – the name of the person who holds the statutory role in every matter, the supreme head of the planning bodies in the West Bank, is signed on a document in which he acknowledges that an entire neighborhood is being built without a permit and that he is protesting because the entrepreneur worked hand in glove with the council head and “established facts on the ground” for fear that the contractor would run away.
At full speed
Yesterday the Justice Ministry stated that last Monday the legal bureau of Ayosh (the Judea and Samaria Region) informed attorney Sfard, who represents the head of the Bil’in village council, that the head of the Civil Administration himself has intervened in the matter recently. “A preliminary inspection carried out in the field has found that the work that is being carried without a permit in the aforementioned neighborhood has been stopped by order of the Modi’in Illit local planning and construction commission.” Quite by chance, on that very same day Dror Etkes of Peace Now visited the site and photographed the bulldozers and the laborers building at full speed. At the same time, the Civil Administration spokesman told Haaretz that “no decision has been taken yet on the matter of work stoppage orders” and he has “no estimate of when such a decision will be taken.”
What can the attorney general do to stop this organized crime? He must inform the defense minister, the GOC and the head of the Civil Administration that the Justice Ministry refuses to use taxpayers’ money to defend organized acts of looting. After all, the State Prosecutor’s Office is not comprised of private defense lawyers who for a substantial fee represent every criminal who knocks on their office door. There have been attorneys general who have refused to cover for less despicable acts than these.
The response from the Justice Ministry: “The responsibility and the authority concerning illegal building in Judea and Samaria is in the hands of the defense establishment. The only role of the State Prosecutor’s Office is to act for the sake of enforcement in that area. The State Prosecutor’s Office has contacted the Ayosh legal bureau and has requested that the military authorities check – and to the extent that it is necessary exert their authority – concerning the illegal construction being carried out in Modi’in Illit.”
The spokesman notes that the sentence, “To this must be added the political circumstances that prevail at this time, and especially the fact that a real possibility exists that elections will be held within a period of about four months” – was merely an incidental comment and it must not be concluded from this that the state believes that enforcement activities must not be carried out during the course of this period, but only requested a postponement.
3) The Hong Kong Trick
By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz
There is no doubt that the writers of the Labor Party’s platform have found a refreshing innovativeness in adding a new concept to the overburdened dictionary of the Israeli occupation: “the Hong Kong paradigm.” The idea of leasing the Jewish settlement blocs from the Palestinians – the way Britain leased certain territories from China (in 1898) for 99 years (and not Hong Kong itself, which was a crown colony since 1841) – is a particularly successful idea: It is impossible to give any more fitting expression to the colonialist nature of the annexation of parts of the West than the example of the takeover by the British Empire (and with it France, Germany and Japan) of parts of the hapless Chinese Empire.
Indeed, the inventors of the Hong Kong paradigm identified the similarity: robber capitalism that operates under the auspices of military power against an impotent rival, the bullying takeover of land and water resources while displacing the natives, and making huge profits while exploiting patriotic sentiments and nationalist urges. The interests and the sentiments that impelled imperialism and colonialism in the latter part of the 19th century – which have become illegitimate, shunned and embarrassing now – live and thrive in Israel today, at the beginning of the 21st century. The authors of Labor’s platform on affairs of state are not hesitating – peace-seeking doves that they are – to base themselves on Hong Kong, which was created in order to enable free trade in opium, as a “solution” for the settlement blocs.
Truly, the situation in those blocs does suit the colonial era. In a fascinating study, Dr. Gadi Algazi reveals the fascinating “story of colonial capitalism in Israel, 2005” – starring ultra-Orthodox businessmen, crooked land-dealers, collaborators, officers of the military administration, the drafters of the route of the separation fence, and the leaders of the settlers. This is “an unholy alliance between the state authorities that subsidize and promote the fences and the real estate companies and high-tech entrepreneurs, the old economy and the new economy.”
This alliance determines the flexible boundaries of the “blocs,” and based on “the consensus,” these blocs are filling up and expanding. Thousands of housing units, some of them without permits, are being built on land that has been stolen from its Palestinian owners through criminal trickery, while the planners of the separation fence, who are very familiar with the real estate sharks’ takeover maps, are taking care to include these lands inside the route of the fence. And they are not ashamed to claim afterward that the fence has been planned “in accordance with security considerations.”
The continued conflicts between the Palestinian inhabitants of the villages where their lands have been stolen – and above all the village of Bil’in that has become a symbol – and the security forces are not receiving the attention they deserve, because their struggle is perceived in the broad political context of opposition to the fence, and not as protest against the theft of their lands and the creation of the “bloc.” In Algazi’s summation, “This is a structural characteristic of the colonial frontier. The wild settlement affords real estate opportunities and huge profits at the expense of the human environment and the natural environment of the place.”
“The peace camp,” for the most part, has given up the struggle against the evils that are entailed in the establishment of the settlement blocs. If United States President George W. Bush has recognized the demand to annex them, what is the point of fighting over their future? All that is necessary is to invent some alibi like “the Hong Kong paradigm.” The peace camp’s struggle is directed only against the “ideological” settlers, the outpost fanatics and “the hilltop youth,” whereas the inhabitants of the urban blocs, the seekers of quality of life, ostensibly have nothing to do with this conflict.
Indeed, a great many of the inhabitants of the “blocs” really are victims of the occupation, not its perpetrators or its perpetuators. The population that is growing at the most rapid rate in the settlement blocs is the ultra-Orthodox population. The towns of Upper Modi’in (Kiryat Sefer) and Upper Betar are growing at an astonishing rate, and the number of their inhabitants comes to about 60,000 – nearly one-quarter of the total number of settlers in the territories.
Poor ultra-Orthodox families that have many children and lack housing have come to the “blocs” having no alternative, and their leaders have defined themselves as “cannon fodder.” There, in territories that have been stolen from the Palestinian villages, homes are built for them that have been sold at subsidized prices, and employment solutions and living conditions the likes of which are not to be found in Israel have been provided for them.
The heads of the Yesha Council (Yesha is the settlers’ acronym for the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which also means “salvation” in Hebrew) relate to these forced settlers as a human shield: “Even if they don’t come here for ideological reasons, they will not give up their homes so easily,” says Pinhas Wallerstein cynically, posing a challenge to those who are appalled by the continuation of the acts of thievery. Hiding behind Hong Kong tricks, or “settlement blocs”, does not solve anything, as the complication has long not been territorial but rather structural and comprehensive.
4) Mofaz’s Responsibility
The defense minister’s bureau issued a statement on Thursday stating that Shaul Mofaz has decided to appoint a committee to look into who is responsible for the methodical uprooting of Palestinians’ olive trees. Mofaz went so far as to say that the uprooting of these trees is a “shocking” deed, and even promised compensation for Palestinians whose trees have been uprooted.
But the act of appointing a committee is nothing but an evasion of responsibility and a continuation of the debacle that has been going on for almost a year in an area of which Mofaz himself is in charge. If any committee needs to be appointed, then it ought to be a committee to investigate how Mofaz permitted outlaws to uproot thousands of olive trees since April, in areas under the control of the Israel Defense Forces, and how it is possible that they don’t have “the slightest lead,” as he says, into finding the outlaws.
The proper thing would be to place the tree uprooters on trial, and to require them, rather than the state, to pay compensation to the injured parties. Meanwhile, the state is not doing even the bare minimum, and the testimony of the victims is being collected by the non-profit organization Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, instead of the police.
Perhaps there should be an investigation into the connection between Mofaz’s belated interest in the tree uprooters and the fact that Mofaz has just quit the Likud and moved to Kadima. Perhaps Mofaz thinks that Kadima’s constituency is more interested than the Likud Central Committee in Palestinians’ olive trees. The cynical move to appoint a joint committee of the army, Shin Bet security service and police to determine that these three bodies have failed in handling the matter is no more than an act of public relations.
The ongoing uprooting of trees, torching of orchards, as well as the daily harassment of the farmers who come to work their land, cannot be considered mere negligence in law enforcement, but rather deliberate disregard. Ultimately, the state benefits from the fact that Palestinians are afraid to work their lands – they become state owned, and can be used to expand settlements.
This, at any rate, is what is happening around the village of Bil’in, where 100 olive trees were uprooted in October by Defense Ministry contractors who are building the separation fence, not for security reasons, but rather to enable the expansion of the Matityahu East community. The uprooted trees, incidentally, are sold to private nurseries in the center of the country, and they go on to adorn the entrances of private homes in Israeli communities within the Green Line.
Over the past month alone, 240 olive trees were cut down in the village of Borin, and another 200 in the village of Salem. At Borin, the Rabbis for Human Rights organization called in soldiers to help the Palestinians reach their land, after a settler lay down in front of a tractor to try to prevent it from being used. After the settler had been removed, olive trees were chopped down in the night in an act of vengeance. Police officers from the Judea and Samaria District announced that bad weather conditions would make it difficult for them to go out to collect testimony. At Salem, olive trees were chopped down after volunteers from kibbuzim had left the area they had come to protect from settlers. All this has been documented by newspapers. In one case, an identification card was found at the scene belonging to a settler from Elon Moreh, who was arrested and immediately released.
Shaul Mofaz and Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra, who is in charge of the police, do not need to appoint a committee to investigate this fiasco. They themselves need to be investigated.