Israel’s COGAT problem

Because the Israeli government has not extended Israeli law into or annexed Area C, where all of the Jewish communities known as “settlements” are located, COGAT is the legal sovereign – in effect.

A DEMOLISHED home is seen in the Migron outpost, 2012. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A DEMOLISHED home is seen in the Migron outpost, 2012.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
After Israel won the 1967 Six Day War, liberating eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip from Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian occupation, these areas were placed under the authority of the IDF and a military administration, known as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which operates the Civil Administration – CA.
Eastern Jerusalem and the Golan were incorporated into Israel in 1980 and 1981, respectively. The area of Judea and Samaria was divided into three parts (Areas A, B and C) under the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the Hebron Accords in 1996. Areas A and B were placed under the newly formed Palestinian Authority, while Area C remained under Israeli military control. In 2005, Israel withdrew the IDF and all civilian communities from the Gaza Strip in the “Disengagement.”
Because the Israeli government has not extended Israeli law into or annexed Area C, where all of the Jewish communities known as “settlements” are located, COGAT is the legal sovereign – in effect, a shadow government with a separate judicial system; Area C is considered to be under “military occupation.” The IDF’s judicial system run by COGAT/CA is backed by the Israeli government and Israel’s High Court. Technically under the Defense Ministry, it is virtually unaccountable. The current attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, was formerly head of the IDF’s legal administration in Judea and Samaria.
In response to Arab land claims brought to the High Court by Yesh Din, the legal NGO which is supported by Peace Now – and other left-wing organizations and NGOs, and assisted by anti-settlement left-wing employees of COGAT, the CA and the IDF Prosecutor’s Office – the legitimacy of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria came under attack.
commissioned by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon and written in 2005 by Talia Sasson, a left-wing attorney in Israel’s Prosecutor’s Office, challenged the legal status of most “settlements” and was part of the onslaught against them, including the Disengagement. It became policy under Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert and remains as part of the hidden legal and judicial opposition to Israeli sovereignty in Area C and Jewish communities there: “the settlements.”
For example, the Jewish communities of Migron and Amona – as well as nine homes in Ofra – were accused of being illegally built on “private Palestinian land.” Although no proof was presented and Arab claims were invalid, based on COGAT/CA decisions, these communities were destroyed. The areas still remain uninhabited. No one benefited: Jewish families suffered a terrible loss, people were traumatized, and it cost the state tens of millions of shekels.
Residents of Migron were moved to a neighborhood near the road to Psagot, and the new community of Amihai, in the Shiloh area – the first new settlement in several decades– was built to replace Amona.
The “blue-line team” – named for the color of boundary lines of Jewish communities drawn on maps of Judea and Samaria – was set up (ostensibly) to more accurately determine these lines. The real reason was to prevent existing communities from expanding and to destroy Jewish properties that were built over those lines. Arab communities have no “blue lines;” they can and do build wherever they want.
COGAT’s blue-line team decided that small portions of 15 homes in Gush Etzion’s Elazar were not properly registered. Residents offered to rectify or remove the questionable areas, but the High Court rejected these appeals and ruled that the homes had to be destroyed entirely. No explanation was given.
The blue-line team also decided that 17 homes and a synagogue in Samaria’s West Tapuah were built beyond the community’s boundary line. A deal was worked out with the town’s secretariat to evacuate the buildings in return for bringing the area within the town’s boundary and allowing residents to return. Nevertheless, the homes and synagogue were destroyed.
There was no need to destroy the buildings: they could have been left until the registration was completed. Millions of shekels were wasted; the land remains empty. No one benefited. New neighborhoods are planned to replace the destroyed homes, but the trauma of unnecessary destruction remains.
COGAT HAS targeted other neighborhoods in communities in Judea, Binyamin and Samaria for destruction, including Sde Boaz in Neveh Daniel (Gush Etzion) and parts of Kiryat Arba (Hebron).
According to media reports, COGAT declared that 4,000 Jewish homes are built on “private Palestinian land.” That sounds like a massive land theft. Asked for evidence of Arab ownership, COGAT refused to back up their assertions. Instead, they offered the following:
“Work done by the ‘land status’ team, formerly known as the ‘blue-line team,’ is performed by professionals from the team in accordance with the real estate laws that apply in the region and alongside close legal counsel.
“The professionals on the team include representatives from the Inspection Unit, Survey Office, Central Planning Office, Government Acquisitions Office, Infrastructure Division, a staff officer from the Land Registry and a representative from the Legal Counsel to the Area of Judea and Samaria.”
A more serious problem is the collusion between employees of COGAT/CA and left-wing organizations. Since all documents concerning land ownership in Judea and Samaria are considered “confidential” by COGAT/CA, it holds all the cards and courts can’t intervene because Judea and Samaria is considered “under military occupation,” and the IDF/COGAT has sole and exclusive power.
According to COGAT/CA, Jews are prohibited from seeing documents because they are not “indigenous.” Despite this restriction, however, left-wing groups have been given access to documents showing land sales by Arabs to Jews – a capital offense according to PA and Muslim authorities, and many Palestinian Arabs have been murdered as a result.
MEANWHILE, tens of thousands of Arabs from PA-controlled Areas A and B are moving into Area C, under Israeli control – along with Bedouin – taking over state land and building illegal villages. COGAT, which is in charge of Area C, has turned a blind eye. The High Court, which ordered Jewish homes destroyed, has protected illegal Bedouin enclaves. Tens of thousands of illegal Arab homes inside the “green line” and in Area C have been legalized retroactively.
Despite the fact that the Knesset passed a “Regulation Law,” COGAT and the attorney general are reluctant to oppose Arab claims against Jewish homes and communities. COGAT and its “blue-line team” determine and enforce “the law,” as they see it, backed by the High Court which has not reviewed the Regulation Law.
Regavim and Meshilut, legal NGOs dedicated to protecting Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, are engaged in a number of cases of land claims against Jews brought by Arabs and Bedouin, assisted by Yesh Din, Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights and others.
In Sussiya (Judea) and neighborhoods of Eli (Samaria), cases await a High Court decision. Without COGAT’s approval, many Jewish communities are vulnerable, and because the IDF is the legal authority in Judea and Samaria, COGAT’s decisions represent the State of Israel.
COGAT has also declared, moreover, that Israel is “stealing private Palestinian land” – which is not only illegal, but immoral – because it accepts Jordanian laws and land distributions as valid and in force. Not only do such decisions affect Jewish homes and property, they undermine Israel’s judicial and legal system and its sovereignty, and ironically support BDS allegations against Israel.
Efforts by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to restore the balance between the Judiciary and the Knesset; introduce checks and balances to the Israeli system; and bring decisions concerning land ownership in Judea and Samaria within Israel’s judicial system seem to be succeeding. But the struggle between COGAT and Jews who build homes in Judea and Samaria is ongoing and can only be resolved by the government and Knesset. This showdown over the exercise of legal and judicial authority will determine Israel’s future.