Regavim, the movement for protection of national lands, together with environmental organization Green Now, filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel on Sunday in an effort to halt illegal construction by Druse villagers of two new neighborhoods in Majdal Shams on the southern slopes of Mt. Hermon.
The petition charges the Minister of Public Security, the Minister of Housing and Construction, the Israel Police, the Majdal Shams municipality and the Israel Land Administration with failing to put a stop to large scale construction violations and requests the Supreme court put in place an injunction forbidding continued development works.
The two groups' lawyer, Amir Fisher, claims that for the last month and a half large-scale development and construction works have been taking place on hundreds of dunams of land at the foothills of the Hermon, near the Druse village of Majdal Shams. Fisher says that the works are taking place in open spaces on which construction is not permitted and in some places, on the territory of a nature reserve.
Fisher said that the work was being carried at a fast pace using dozens of heavy construction vehicles, and that the workers flew a Druse flag at the top of the construction site. Fisher said that the responsible supervising bodies had not stopped the work because inspectors were afraid to issue cease and desist orders to the Druse construction workers without police protection.
"The state authorities are afraid to go near the site. Nobody wants to take responsibility. This is a case with deep political significance and nobody wants the issue to fall into their hands," said Fisher.
The Supreme Court petition includes copies of a series of letters exchanged between the petitioning groups and the state authorities, out of which a peculiar story unfolds. According to the petition, Fisher contacted all the state authorities charged in the petition to notify them of the violations, on October 19. The notification included a letter and photographs documenting the type, scale and nature of the development work being carried out.
In response, Fisher received letters from various authorities, including the Ministry of Construction and Housing, the Ministry of Interior and the Green Patrol, the body charged with supervising Israel's open spaces, all saying that they were aware of the violations and had issued warrants to stop the works, but were unable to approach the area without police protection.
From the Israel Police Northern Command, Fisher received the following response: "The subject of your request regarding development works taking place in the Majdal Shams and Hermon area are known to the command. The issue is on our desk and we are in contact with the Israel Land Administration and other relevant parties on this issue.
"When requested to aid, the police will examine the matter and act to assist according to the requirements of the law."
Fisher said that at the bottom of the issue was the fact that those involved in the construction were doing so illegally, without permits or licenses, and while the state was failing to act, the builders were already establishing facts on the ground.
"Throughout the whole ordeal and to this very moment, construction continues to take place. We have people monitoring the works from a distance and they see them working at a blistering pace," said Fisher.
"The harm is already done. The nature reserve is being destroyed and the natural habitat of animals of plants is being eradicated. Even if the works are stopped tomorrow, it will take hundreds of years for everything to go back to what it was."
In response to the petition, the Supreme Court ordered the state to respond to the charges by November 29.
When asked to comment on the construction taking place in Majdal Shams, regional council secretary Hassan Mahmoud said that the municipality had nothing to do with it but refused to comment further on how the work could continue without authorization.
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