New team bids to stop illegal building

State land being "stolen" by Beduins in South, moshav families in North.

beduin construction 298 (photo credit: )
beduin construction 298
(photo credit: )
The Internal Security Ministry announced Monday the establishment of a new team that will serve to coordinate the governmental response to the growing phenomenon of private individuals illegally using state-owned lands. The team, which will be led by Dr. Ram Gal, will address what Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter has described as "the defense of state lands" against an onslaught of private individuals and businesses that have increasingly appropriated public lands. State-owned lands constitute approximately 93% of Israeli land, and, according to Gal, they are at risk - particularly in the Negev and along the Coastal Plain. Gal told The Jerusalem Post that the appropriation of lands has "a wide impact, particularly in the Negev and the Sharon region." In the former, he said, state lands are frequently "stolen" by Beduin families, who build permanent buildings on the lands. In the Sharon, the guilty parties are frequently moshav residents who utilize agricultural lands given to them by the state for non-agricultural purposes. The damage caused by this building, Gal said, endangers the environment, national interests, and even the potential for further development of the regions in question. "As long as this phenomenon continues to grow, the reality on the ground is increasingly determined by actions that have already taken place, and not in accordance with planning. When people build every which way, the government's planning loses its meaning, and sometimes the newly-established facts on the ground make it difficult to carry out plans." Gal cited the example of Beduin development south of Beersheba in the area of Ramat Hovav. There, he said, the government had planned to build a gas pipeline that "is supposed to help national goals," but surveyors discovered that there were illegal buildings that had been built along the path of the pipe. Similar situations, Gal said, had occurred around Yatir and Dimona. According to Gal, the effect on national and local-level planning is only one part of the impact of the problem. "It institutionalizes disrespect for law enforcement and laws in the country, because those who build illegally [and are not punished] gain the impression that there is no law or order." The illegal building also puts the builder themselves at a disadvantage, as illegally built communities and buildings are not entitled to government infrastructure and services. In the Sharon, he said, the problems are different. There, former farmers have discovered that it is frequently more profitable to rent out their agricultural lands for commercial and industrial purposes than to use them for farming. "The land is cheaper in the moshavs than in the cities because of a decision made on an ideological basis to encourage agriculture," Gal explained. "It pays off for moshav residents to rent out land for warehouses, factories or to use it to build wedding halls." The would-be entrepreneurs' neighbors are then forced to confront increased levels of pollution and noise from commercial traffic. "The infrastructure on those moshavs was never built to support that kind of traffic," said Gal, himself a moshav resident. The establishment of Gal's team came after years of governmental debate as to how to confront the phenomenon. But the effort of law enforcement officials against the land appropriations lacked centralization - a wide range of governmental organizations all have overlapping units meant to tackle the problem, including the Interior Ministry's National Unit for Building Supervision, the Israel Lands Authority's Oversight Division, the Israel Parks Authority's Unit for Supervising Open Lands ("The Green Squad") and the State's Attorney's Officer's Unit for Enforcing Lands Rulings. In accordance with the government's decision and in light of Dichter's decision to define the private appropriation of state lands as a high-priority topic, the ministry, which is responsible for law enforcement in Israel, decided to establish the specific professional field of dealing with illegal building on state-owned lands. ISM spokesmen said that in the near future, the ministry's team under Gal will emphasize maintaining state-owned lands through a series of actions including drawing up a summary of work on the subject that was accomplished in 2006, summarizing and authorizing a plan for general enforcement on an interministerial level for the 2007 administrative year, and creating and authorizing interministerial plans in of how to carry out enforcement. The goal is to determine a clear work plan that includes all of the government bodies that are involved in dealing with the phenomenon. But Gal recognizes that enforcement is not the only way for the government to take on the problem. "Enforcement is simply a complimentary tool for the problem that must be used wisely, but is only one part of the solution," he said, explaining that there are other governmental committees working to finding permanent solutions to the lands issues. Gal has years of experience in the field of lands management. In the past, he led the IDF department responsible for planning and distribution of IDF usage of state lands, including the establishment of camps, bases, facilities and training areas. He also served as the defense minister's representative on the interior ministry's district planning committee. Gal previously worked with enforcement of land usage laws as part of the "Green Squad", rising in responsibility until serving as the assistant commander of the unit. He currently also lectures at Tel Aviv University on the subject of geography and the military, particularly on reciprocal relations between military and civilian land usage.