Peace Now petitions to stop illegal building in Modi'in Illit

Contractors are building hundreds of apartments in and around the haredi town of Modi'in Illit without proper permits and in accordance with a town planning scheme which has not yet been approved, attorney Michael Sfard told the High Court of Justice on Thursday. Sfard asked presiding Justice Ayala Procaccia to turn a temporary order into an interim injunction barring the contractors from continuing to build the apartments or allow families to move into them until the court ruled on the main body of the petition. Procaccia held a two-and-a-half-hour discussion on the request and said she would hand down her ruling at a later date. Modi'in Illit is a settlement just over the Green Line near Modi'in. Sfard, who is petitioning on behalf of the Peace Now movement, charged that the local council of Modi'in Illit, the West Bank military government and the State Attorney's Office had shut their eyes to the illegal building which they all knew about at one time or another. The building companies involved in the allegedly illegal construction include Green Park Inc., Greenmount Inc. and Hefziba. Sfard also charged that the illegal housing was being built in a neighborhood which is due to be linked in the future to more Jewish settlement construction on an adjacent 600-dunam area of land, which is owned by Palestinian residents of Bil'in, but situated on the "Israeli" side of the separation fence. According to Sfard, the only planning scheme legally in force for the disputed neighborhood of East Matityahu in Modi'in Illit is called Plan 210/8. It was approved in 1999. The plan called for building 1,500 housing units in East Matityahu. About two years ago, the government decided to change the plan and double the number of units to be built there. In its road system, the new plan also took into consideration that there would eventually be more settlement construction on the nearby Palestinian-owned 600 dunams. The new planning scheme, called Plan 210/8/1, was not given final approval by government authorities because of procedural problems, including the fact that the Palestinians were not informed of it or given the chance to file complaints against it. Plan 210/8/1 is still many months away from final approval. Renato Yarak, the attorney for the Green Park and Greenmount construction companies, argued that while it was true that the new plan was not in effect yet, the contractors had begun construction because they knew it was due to be given final approval shortly afterwards. Yarak also pointed out that the building was designated for young couples without much money. "Halting construction and suspending the taking of possession will hurt not only the contractors, but also the young couples themselves," he said. Yarak added that there were legal ways to legitimize the construction even now. For example, according to Jordanian law - which still applies in the West Bank - the authorities could give final approval to the new town planning scheme immediately, and hold the hearings on the complaints by the public afterwards. Another possibility was to give temporary permits for the housing and hear the public complaints against it simultaneously. Hefziba's attorney, Yoram Bar-Sela, told the court that 17 of the company's 21 buildings had already been completed and the other four were in advanced stages. The company had already sold 278 units, some of which were occupied. He added that the reason the authorities had decided to double the number of housing units in the town planning scheme was "solely to lower building costs because the housing is earmarked for families with many children and little money." According to attorney Gilad Rogel, the legal adviser for the local council of Modi'in Illit, some 450 housing units are under construction in East Matityahu, all of which have permits [on the basis of unapproved Plan 210/8/1 - D.I.]. Another 250 units were being built without permits, but these were stopped without any connection to the Peace Now petition. According to Sfard, the building permits are illegal. According to Rogel, Bar-Sela and Yarak, they may be illegal but they can be legitimized and should be under the circumstances. Procaccia asked the state's representative, attorney Aner Hellman, to determine whether the permits were legal and said she would decide in a few days whether to grant Peace Now's request for an interim injunction.