Ulpana: When the elders of Chelm make aliya

Story of apartments in Beit El reveals government incompetency at every turn.

Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Chelm is a fictitious village where foolish villagers are happily led by a rabbi who is advised by village elders. Many stories are told about the wisdom of these elders. One tale centers on a bridge built over a river near the village . There was a hole in the road surface of the bridge. Villagers kept stepping into the hole, falling ten feet, breaking a leg. They didn’t know what to do. Finally, someone suggested they ask the rabbi. But the rabbi was out of town. So they asked the elders—who had a solution: build a hospital under the hole.
These elders have now made aliya. They live in Israel. They work for the government. And like the foolish villagers before them, Israel’s officials love their elders of Chelm. 
Take the problem of five stone apartment buildings in a place called Ulpana, a neighborhood in the town of Beit El. These buildings were built several years ago when Defense Minister Ehud Barak served as prime minister. If pictures are any indication, these building are made with reinforced concrete that is layered over with cut limestone block. The walls are approximately 13 to 14 inches thick. Each building houses six families. These are not American-style brick homes. They are as sturdy as fortresses.
To ensure that people moved into these apartment buildings, Barak’s government offered incentives, including infrastructure and roads to service the buildings, plus individual home-owner assistance to buy and finance purchases. These buildings were not a private-initiative project. They were government-initiated, using a private contractor. The project is an example of how a government can fund and build residences in less than ideal locations — and then encourage families to move there.
To build a new neighborhood of reinforced-concrete and stone apartment buildings in Judea-Samaria, several things have to happen. The Housing Ministry has to issue a permit.  A local community council has to approve a master plan.  Land must be purchased. Then, a community construction arm has to secure and file the land contracts. And then, the government must still build infrastructure — roads, retaining walls, electricity, sewage and sidewalks — before construction can begin.
That’s the process. A long line of procedures must be followed — unless, of course, you are dealing with the elders from Chelm, in which case everything changes.
Here’s how:  Construction on the Ulpana project started around 1998. The aforementioned paperwork was still required to have been completed, validated and filed with the appropriate offices; it's just that the government didn't track anything. No one confirmed that the land-purchase contracts and other paperwork had been filed. In fact, there was so little oversight that, according to one news report, the building contractor appears to have told the police that he didn’t have any building permits and doesn’t know if a master plan for the project actually existed.  He is unaware of who holds the purchase contracts for the land on which he constructed the buildings. 
He also apparently does not know that the purchase of one parcel of land was never completed, or that the seller of another parcel of land may not have actually owned the property. The project unfolded with government participation and absolutely no evidence of competent oversight. The builder finished his work and sold the apartments. Everyone seemed happy until some Arabs showed up and said, "you don’t own the land you built on."
 In Israel, the elders of Chelm don’t just work in the housing industry. They also work on the Supreme Court and for the prime minister’s office.
Who’s at fault here?  Based on news reports, the government encouraged 30 families to move to Ulpana. During construction, the government never spoke up. What do the courts do? Who should accept responsibility for this, and what should the penalty be?
The elders of Chelm on Israel’s High Court had the answers: you throw out the families living there and destroy the buildings.
If that doesn’t sound like a high-quality legal decision, don’t worry. The elders of Chelm also work in the prime minister’s office. They have a counter-solution: transport the buildings (with their 14-inch thick walls) to a different part of Beit-El.
The government loves this solution, but no one knows if such a plan is physically possible or legal.
Doesn’t this sound like another hospital under the hole in the bridge idea? If so, why isn’t it funny?
The writer has a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and writes for tuviainil.blogspot and jewishleadership.blogspot.