Comptroller: 100,000 illegal buildings in Israel

Report says ineffective measures to cope with problem shrinks public confidence in the rule of law.

beduin demolition 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
beduin demolition 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
There were 100,113 buildings throughout Israel lacking permits in August 2008, up 59 percent compared with the same month five years earlier, the state comptroller wrote in the second part of his annual report for 2008-2009. "The illegal building phenomenon is handled in various ways," wrote the comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss. "Many bodies take action to reduce it, the government established committees, passed resolutions and provided funding to deal with the problem. Despite all that, the phenomenon is gaining strength. Ineffective measures to cope with the problem shrinks public confidence in the rule of law and damages the deterrent factor." According to the figures presented by Lindenstrauss, 64% of all illegal construction occurs in the Negev. More than 20,000 illegal buildings are situated in the Central District and almost 10,000 in the North. The number of illegal buildings in the Negev increased by 87% between August 2003 and August 2008. In Jerusalem, the number rose from 1,480 to 2,243, an increase of 52%, and the second largest increase in the country. In the Central District, illegal construction grew by 47%. According to the state comptroller, the bodies involved in the fight against illegal include the inspection units of the Interior Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration, the Nature and Parks Authority's Green Patrol, the police, including the Law Enforcement Actions Coordinating Committee, and the state prosecution. "The bodies responsible for monitoring illegal construction in the Ministry of Interior, the Israel Lands Administration and the Law Enforcement Actions Coordinating Committee had not formulated a law enforcement policy or brought it for approval to the relevant cabinet ministers or the attorney-general. Without such a policy, it is doubtful that the law enforcement actions focus on the most serious and widespread violations or that the policy is applied equally to all," according to the report. In 2008 there were 57,528 illegal structures in the Beduin sector in the Negev. This was twice as many as six years earlier. Of these, almost 15,000 were permanent buildings and almost 40,000 were defined as shacks. Although the police determined that it would focus its efforts on law enforcement against illegal construction in the Negev, the state comptroller found that between 2005 and 2007, 824 demolition orders issued by the courts had not been implemented. In the wake of the establishment of the Goldberg Committee to investigate the question of the unrecognized Beduin villages, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, in September 2007, asked the police to reevaluate its enforcement policies. So far, it has failed to produce a document acceptable to the attorney-general. As a result, during all that time almost no illegal structures have been demolished, the state comptroller wrote. The government established the police Law Enforcement Actions Coordinating Committee to help fight illegal construction. It allocated 126 job slots for this special unit, including 114 police enforcement positions in the field. The police officers assigned were to devote all their time and energy to this one issue. However, only 84% of the slots were filled in April 2008 and the state comptroller found that the policemen were often sidetracked for other assignments. The state comptroller also found that the number of private lawyers willing to represent the government in the legal actions that are often required to obtain court-issued demolition orders has dropped over the past few years. As a result, the number of indictments filed in court against illegal construction has fallen drastically, from 341 in 2005 to 144 in 2006 and 66 in 2007. The drop between 2005 and 2007 was 81%.