The Israeli State Comptroller has just released a detailed report, uncovering the lack of law enforcement in the settlements. The report, summarizing a review of the Israeli Civil Administration, the military body in charge of all civil issues in the West Bank, describes that due to a lack of legal oversight in building and construction, and the use of lands by settlers at no cost, the West Bank has become the new wild west where “Everyone does what is right in his own eyes”.
Peace Now: “The State Comptroller report reveals an intolerable situation, in which settlements receive free land, and are free from law enforcement against illegal construction. If no actions are taken on these issues, Peace Now will pursue a petition to the Supreme Court”.
Here are some of the key findings of the report: (this is not an exhaustive list of findings)
1. State Land Management:
- In 75% of the settlements, home to approximately 100,000 settlers, the Civil Administration never collected the leasing fees from the settlers.
- The loss of income from the lack of lease payments is estimated at 50 million NIS per a year. A total sum of approximately half a billion NIS.
- The Civil Administration never signed contracts with the settlers in 75% of settlements and therefore has no control or oversight, needless to say no law enforcement, on the use of these lands.
2. No Enforcement of the Construction and Building laws
- The State Comptroller defines the situation of planning and construction in the territories as “everyone does what is right in his own eyes”. There is almost no criminal enforcement of established planning and construction laws. Therefore those who build illegally are never punished.
- Peace Now counted in the last two years at least 500 units that started to be built illegally in settlements. However Peace Now estimates that the true numbers are likely thousands of units.
- The settlement local authorities, which are officially in charge of the law enforcement do not pursue law enforcement in their districts. According to Peace Now, there are indications that loal authorities are sometimes involved in the illegal construction.
More Details from the State Comptroller Report:
1. Managing of “State Lands” in the West Bank
The body in charge of managing the public lands (AKA “State Lands”) in the West Bank is the Custodian of Governmental and Abandoned Property (the Custodian). The Custodian is part of the Civil Administration which is the military body in charge of all civil issues in the West Bank. The Custodian allocates the land for all kind of uses – settlements, industry, agriculture etc. According to the law, the Custodian must sign a contract with every settler who gets the right to build or to reside on public lands in the West Bank, and to collect leasing fees. However, the State Comptroller found that in 87 out of the 120 settlements, where some 100,000 settlers live, the Custodian never signed any agreement and never collected leasing fees. This caused not only loss of half a billion NIS (50 Million NIS per year), but also prevented the Custodian from monitoring and inspecting the true use of the lands and therefore prevented the enforcement of the law.
The Israeli Government appointed the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization to establish, develop and manage these 87 settlements. Those include isolated settlements such as: Itamar, Dolev, Bracha, Talmon, Eli, Shilo, Ofra, and also settlements closer to the Green Line such as Kfar Etzion, Kfar Adumim, Neve Daniel, Alon Shvut, Nokdim and others. The other 33 settlements are either run by the Israeli Ministry of Housing, where the Custodian conducted all necessary contracts and collected leasing fees, or by private companies (where the land is considered to be private as opposed to public land).
The average cost of leasing fees inside Israel in places similar to the settlements is around 250,000 to 500,000 NIS that each buyer must pay. The fact that the leasing fees were never collected makes the prices of the houses in the settlements much lower than in Israel, and creates yet another incentive to move to settlements.
The lack of land leases is yet another example of how the government provides preferential treatment between settlers and Israeli citizens. For example, in the Jordan Valley settlers have been allocated farmland without needing to pay for the land and without any contracts, thus the Custodian has little authority to supervise the land (it also affects the water quotas provided to the settlers, without appropriate reporting). This also relates to businesses operating in the West Bank, for example, of the 38 Israeli gas stations in the West Bank, 25 do not pay any land lease fees and have no contract with the Administration.
2. No Enforcement of the Planning and Construction Laws
The state comptroller report revealed that there is almost no law enforcement of Planning and Construction laws in the West Bank, allowing for impunity of violators, with no criminal procedures or investigations. According to the Comptroller this brought to an almost anarchic situation where anyone can do as they please.
The report explains that currently there is no government body to take the criminal steps against illegal constructers. This is partially a result of very poor cooperation between the Army, Police and Civil Administration and the fact that none of them is ready to take responsibility over the matter. Inside Israel the responsibility for the criminal enforcement of the construction laws is on the Local Authorities, although the Ministry of Interior does have some authority.
However in the West Bank, the settlement local authorities do not enforce the law, and Peace Now saw indications that in some cases, the local authority itself was involved with the illegal construction.
The only cases that Peace Now knows of where an investigation was carried out against builders were three cases in which following a petition to the Supreme Court the State Attorney was forced to open investigation (in Halamish, Shilo and Ofra). All investigations are still in process.
The findings of the State Comptroller are only further proof to the lawlessness in the West Bank and the government supported impunity of illegal acts by settlers. This report is a clear indication of a serious failure in Israeli governance in the West Bank. The fact that a majority of settlement enjoy no-cost land, impunity and other de-facto support from the government results in a situation of utter lawlessness and further serves the settler agenda to prevent a two-state solution.