Israel colluded in illegal settler building, comptroller charges

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira published the findings of his office in a scathing report that focused in part on the illegal building activities in the Binyamin Regional Council.

Resturant and winery in the Givat Harel outpost (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Resturant and winery in the Givat Harel outpost
Ministries colluded in illegal settler building in the outposts, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira charged on Monday.
His office published a scathing report that focused in part on the illegal settler building activities in communities under the jurisdiction of the Binyamin Regional Council.
It also noted the discrepancy between activities of the council and the government offices that were supporting illegal building and that of the Civil Administration, which handed out demolition orders for those same structures.
The report also comes at a time when there is a legislative and political push to rebrand the concept of government collusion with illegal building so that it is seen instead as evidence that such construction had government approval and should be legalized.
On Monday, the right-wing Knesset Land of Israel caucus filed a bill demanding the authorization of 70 outposts.
Caucus co-chairmen MKs Yoav Kisch (Likud) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) said the report only strengthens the argument that residents of those fledgling communities must already be treated as if they were living in legalized homes.
It “reveals the impossible situation in which thousands of families in these young communities as well as the regional councils in Judea and Samaria have been trapped as a result of the failure and the foot-dragging when it comes to regulating the outposts,” the caucus said.
Left-wing group Peace Now said the report had highlighted an “organized and long-standing method of financing illegal projects with public funds” by way of establishing facts on the ground with far-reaching diplomatic implications for Israel.
The Binyamin Regional Council’s actions are “part of a phenomenon that exists in other local authorities in the territories [Area C of the West Bank],” Peace Now said.
It called on the government to stop such funding for those responsible “to stand trial” and “pay their debt to the public.”
The report primarily blamed the illegal building on the Binyamin Regional Council headed by Avi Ro’eh, which has 27 settlements and 30 outposts within its jurisdiction.
“The council has been the driving force in the construction of unauthorized communities [outposts] and has financed them,” the comptroller said.
“In so doing, the council has dictated a negative standard of behavior, that has allowed for illegal construction in the Judea and Samaria and has even advanced such activity,” the comptroller report stated.
But it went on to explain that the council had certainly not acted alone.
“Government offices were involved in financing the planning and construction of the unauthorized outposts,” the report stated.
Among those offices listed in the report were the Construction and Housing, Interior, Transportation, Defense and Education ministries. The Jewish National Fund was also involved in the projects, the comptroller report said.
It took particular issue with a Construction and Housing Ministry decision to plan for a new city in the area of the Talmon settlement, which included the two outposts of Kerem Reim and Zayit Ra’anan.
“When it finances a municipal building plan in unauthorized communities, it became a partner to the council’s unauthorized building activities,” the report stated.
Among the examples it gave was the Kida outpost, which it said was built in 2000 without any governmental decision on land that was outside the council’s jurisdiction, even though it is now serviced by that council.
In 2015 the council began work on a NIS 2.5 million sports complex in the outpost. Then in 2017, it put forward NIS 50,000 to plan for a community center.
From 2008 to 2014, the Civil Administration issued five demolition orders against structures in the outpost.
With regard to the outpost Eish Kodesh, built in 2000, the comptroller noted that the Binyamin Regional Council serviced the community even though technically it was geographically located within the jurisdiction of the Samaria Regional Council. It added that in 2014 the Interior Ministry agreed to pay for the renovation of a road in the outpost.
In 2003, 2012 and 2013, the Civil Administration issued demolition orders against public structures in the outposts.
The report follows others done 2008 and 2004 that similarly found evidence of government involvement in illegal settler building in Judea and Samaria.
The Binyamin Regional Council told the comptroller that for decades the government had indiscriminately invested money in building Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
It added that it had an obligation to provide all its residents with services whether they were living in authorized and unauthorized communities.
The council similarly told the media on Monday that it had to walk a thin line between observing building laws and fulfilling its responsibility to its residents “who settled in the region with the approval and encouragement of the state.”
This includes providing public building, educational facilities and roads, the council said.
It said that it engaged in modular and not permanent construction. The building activity was on state or survey land in places where the government was already interested in building, the council said.
The comptroller, the council added, has a responsibility to relate his report to the complex and changing reality in Judea and Samaria.