outpost evacuation 298.
(photo credit: Jewish Community of Hebron [file])
Only a handful of remedial steps have been taken over the nine months following the March release of a report by attorney Talia Sasson on the establishment of illegal outposts in the West Bank, Sasson told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview this week.
The report, commissioned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, investigated the more than 100 illegal outposts and how to prevent more of them from being established.
So far, said Sasson, the army had implemented only one of her several recommendations to change the law to combat the illegal construction.
At the same time, the ministerial committee headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni appointed to study Sasson's recommendations on instituting proper governmental procedures for building legally in the territories has disintegrated without coming to any decisions on how to implement the recommendations. According to Sasson, the ministerial committee was due to publish its report in mid-August. It did not do so because the government was busy implementing disengagement. Since then, the Labor Party members of the committee have resigned from the government and no longer belong to the committee.
Sasson, who attended the ministerial meetings at Livni's request, has not heard from the committee in the past three-and-a-half months.
Sasson's report, which was released on March 8, addressed several issues. The first was how the illegal outposts were established and what breaches in the law governing Israeli conduct in the administered territories had to be closed. The second dealt with improper administrative actions by government and other public officials that made the illegal development possible, and what steps needed to be taken to prevent them in the future. Finally, the report located the illegal outposts and determined the ownership of the land on which they were established.
In addition to the one order implemented by the military commander in the West Bank, Sasson mentioned that former construction and housing minister Isaac Herzog had prohibited all ministry spending for illegal outposts and that Ron Shachner, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's assistant for settlement matters who was severely criticized in the report, had resigned.
Sasson told the Post she had called on the government to immediately dismantle all of the outposts that had been built on land not clearly belonging to the state, including private Palestinian land or land whose ownership was unclear. So far, not a single such outpost has been removed.
"After considering the matter, I concluded that the existing law was sufficient to dismantle illegal outposts," Sasson said. "What is required is the political will to do so."
Sasson said her recommendations had been of two kinds: Several of them were directed at the civil administration in the West Bank, which is headed by the military commander of the area; the others were directed at the government.
In all these months, the commander has amended only one military order - expanding the jurisdiction of the three civilian magistrate's courts in the territories to consider certain specific violations of the planning and building laws as potentially criminal. For example, until the military order was changed, the Israeli courts in the territories were not authorized to hear criminal charges against Jewish settlers who placed mobile homes in the West Bank without permits.
Sasson told the Post she had recommended that the army expand the civilian court's criminal jurisdiction to include many other illegal acts, but that these had not been implemented.
"The army has corrected this matter, but it is the only thing it has done so far," she said. None of her other recommendations to the military commander has been acted upon. One such recommendation was to sign an order to better protect the rights of Palestinians to their land.
"At present, Palestinians are not adequately protected by criminal, civil or administrative law," she said. "Their protections are very weak."
For example, the commander should improve administrative measures to protect the Palestinians, she said. According to current law, if someone seizes land or property from a Palestinian owner and occupies it for more than 30 days, the police may not evict the squatters.
Palestinian landowners and homeowners are often prevented by curfew and roadblocks from visiting their property for long periods of time and often may not know, or cannot prove, that the squatters have been there less than 30 days. Sasson recommended expanding the period of time to three months.
She added that the army had agreed to implement some of her other recommendations but had not done so, despite all the time that had passed. She told the Post she knew of cases where the army had prepared a new military order in a day-and-a-half. "When the system wants to do something badly enough, it apparently can do it," she concluded.
As an example of the administrative procedures that public officials should be implementing, Sasson referred to the fact that it is the civil administration's job to report on all illegal construction in the territories. When supervisors find structures being erected without permits, the civil administration is obliged to issue demolition orders, but these must be approved by the minister of defense. She said she found many such orders piled up, unsigned, on the defense minister's desk, dating back to include several governments and ministers.
"There is an entire system set up to prevent illegal construction, but if it is not enforced, it is just paper," she said.
Before leaving public service last year, Sasson served as the head of the Special Tasks Division of the State Attorney's Office. One of her jobs was to deal with law enforcement in the territories, including the question of illegal construction. But Sasson said that until she researched the illegal outposts at Sharon's request, "I did not know how grave the situation was or how involved government authorities were in the phenomenon."