Comptroller blasts police failure to criminally investigate illegal settler building

Shapira says millions lost in uncollected property fees in West Bank, suggests body be created to probe W. Bank violations.

West Bank security fence barrier wall settlement 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
West Bank security fence barrier wall settlement 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira blasted the absence of criminal investigations into illegal settler building and the loss of millions of shekels in uncollected property fees in the West Bank, in a report he submitted to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday.
In it he attacked the IDF, the Border Police, the Custodian of Abandoned Properties and other regulatory agencies in the West Bank, including the Health and Agriculture ministries for failing to enforce regulations with regard to property, agriculture, water, illegal Palestinian workers, the environment and traffic violations.
Peace Now on Wednesday threatened to petition the High Court of Justice to force the Custodian of Abandoned Property to collect fees and conduct criminal investigations into illegal building activity.
The police have claimed it is not their responsibility to deal with the criminal aspects of illegal building in Judea and Samaria, Shapira said.
As a result, there is no entity in Judea and Samaria that deals with illegal building from the criminal perspective, he said.
Shapira called on the ministries of defense, interior and justice to create an investigatory body for such violations.
The same is true for environmental issues, he said. The Health Ministry does not check the presence of pesticide residues in agricultural products in settlements, as was decided upon under a 2000 agreement between the ministers of health and agriculture, Shapira wrote.
There is also a growing phenomenon by which Palestinian produce is sent to Israeli packing houses in Judea and Samaria, without adherence to the rules for non-Israeli produce, he said.
There is no Israeli entity that oversees and coordinates compliance with water laws, even though there is a continued phenomenon of large quantities of stolen water, Shapira wrote.
He reported that soldiers did not deal with the issue of illegal Palestinian workers in West Bank settlements, and that this is particularly problematic given that they could pose a security risk.
Specifically, he said that soldiers do not record the information or send complaints to the police.
With respect to traffic accidents, there is little coordination between police and the military prosecutor, such that since 2008 there have not been many prosecutions of Palestinian drivers, even those involved in serious accidents, Shapira wrote.
Police and other law enforcement agencies are divided as to who is responsible for West Bank traffic accidents, he wrote.
In a section on abandoned properties in the West Bank, Shapira wrote that due to a lack of manpower in the office, half-a-billion shekels have been lost annually because in many cases lease fees have not been collected.
A request by the custodian for 38 new employees to fix the situation was rejected, Shapira said.
“We’re talking about a substantial failure” that lasted for years, Shapira said.
He calculated that out of 120 settlements in Judea and Samaria, only 33 were created through the Construction and Housing Ministry. In those 33 settlements, Shapira wrote, land leases were properly signed and leasing fees were charged, Shapira said.
But leases were not signed and fees were not collected in 87 other settlements created by the Settlements Division of the World Zionist Organization, Shapira said.
Similarly, he said, the custodian’s office did not check land used by Israeli farmers in the Jordan Valley and has never checked to make sure that it or the allowable water allocations are being used for agriculture purposes.
Since October 2000, when the second intifada started, 95 percent of the Palestinians who rent property from the custodian stopped paying their fees. The custodian has not operated to renew their contracts or to receive their fees, Shapira wrote.
The ministries of defense, agriculture, housing and treasury knew that there was a problem but did nothing to address it, Shapira said.
The Judea and Samaria police said it would study the comptroller’s report, but that the IDF was the enforcement body in the West Bank.
The Israel police assists the IDF and will continue to do so in all of the fields that it plays a role, the police official said.
It is worth emphasizing, the police said, that it does not open investigations or charge criminals in the field of environmental protection, illegal construction or planning violations in Judea and Samaria, just as it doesn’t within Israel.
In these fields the investigative jurisdiction and decision to press charges in Israel is dependent on professional bodies, the official said.
In Judea and Samaria the civil administration is the professional body, the official said.
Nonetheless, the police deals with the water theft issue and gives investigative answers to all complaints of weather theft and illegal drilling, in particular through combined operations and carrying out arrests, the police official said.
In 2012, 168 cases were opened against those who damaged infrastructure, the official said. Out of those, 22 were cases of water theft, an issue that is a priority for 2013, the official said.
The police does deal with illegal Palestinian workers in the settlements, but is heavily dependent on the IDF to issue complaints, because the IDF is the protective force for the settlements, the official said.
When it comes to traffic issues, the police will continue to handle such charges in the military courts, but it is important that the traffic division handle such matters, the official said.
NGO Regavim said the report was proof that Israel needed to immediately annex Area C, or at least the settlements located there so that civilian life in Judea and Samaria could fall under the auspices of the relevant ministries.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.