IDF yet to return thousands of dunams of unused land to ILA

Knesset panel slams military for negligence over abandoned facilities.

Six months after a damning State Comptroller’s report about the IDF’s failure to free unused state lands for civilian use, the army has so far neglected to return abandoned land to the Israel Land Administration, it was revealed on Tuesday.
In a debate in the Knesset’s State Control Committee, Chairman Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) said that according to that March report, the IDF has prevented the return of tens of thousands of dunams of land, currently the sites of abandoned army camps, to the ILA.
In that same report, the State Comptroller also noted that there may well be yet more abandoned camps of which the Chief of Staff is apparently unaware.
However, the IDF has yet to address the issues raised in that report and return unused land to the ILA.
Bar-On slammed what he called the IDF’s “careless and wasteful” actions in not releasing the land for public use.
“State lands are a national resource essential for the development of the country and for its construction – and the lack of land is getting worse and worse,” Bar-On said.
“There is plenty of land available for construction in the center and the periphery, but careless and wasteful supervision and control have prevented it being marketed to the public for decades.” Some of the abandoned army bases are located in densely populated urban areas, added Bar-On.
The IDF currently controls almost 80 percent of state land: just under 40% of state land within the green line is used for army bases and training, a further 40% of land is currently placed under building restrictions for military reasons.
And while these unused lands remain in the IDF’s possession, they cannot be used for other purposes – such as civilian housing projects.
However, they still cost the taxpayer considerable amounts of money. According to Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Or, deputy director of the State Comptroller’s office, in 2008- 2009 alone, the IDF paid NIS 25 million in property taxes on land it did not use.
The State Control Committee also revealed that the IDF has continued paying municipal taxes totaling NIS 10 million on an abandoned army camp in order to avoid having to pay NIS one million to decontaminate the land.
In Tuesday’s debate on the matter, Bar-On slammed the IDF for its negligence in the way it has left the abandoned camps.
Debris, exposed infrastructure, environmental and safety hazards and serious land pollution blight the abandoned bases.
The IDF uses the pretext of relocating army bases to the Negev to justify delays in clearing camps that in fact are unconnected to the plans, Bar-On said.
Plans to move IDF bases to the Negev were first raised in 2005, but have been stalled ever since over disputes relating to funding the move.
In April, the IDF announced that NIS 19 billion needed for moving the bases south would be funded from the sale of land in 14 army bases in central Israel.
However, the bases slated to be sold – including Tzrifin, near Rishon Lezion – are currently occupied bases that would be evacuated for the move, and not abandoned camps.
Bar-On also criticized the ILA for disregarding the recommendations of the State Comptroller and the prime minister.
Despite pledges by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to establish a team to address the issues raised in the State Comptroller’s report, so far this has failed to materialize, Bar-On said.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) also slammed the IDF and ILA, accusing the ILA of inflicting a “fatal, severe and sharp blow” to public trust.
Committee Chairman Bar-On pledged to hold a hearing of the State Control Committee every three months in order to monitor developments in the situation.
In response to the criticism, Deputy Director General of the Defense Ministry Bezalel Treiber, said that the Defense Ministry changed its priorities following the report’s publication, noting that since the beginning of the year between five and eight camps have been evacuated.
However, Treiber admitted that the the team dealing with the issue had only met once.
ILA Deputy Director Ronen Cohen pledged to the committee that in 2012, army camps will be scrutinized more effectively.
According to Cohen, lands formerly belonging to camps in Tel Hashomer east of Ramat Gan and Camp Dotan (Camp 80) in the Sharon have already been earmarked for housing construction.