'Freeze-ending' Settlement Construction Was Legal, Probe Finds

Structures that were built in response to last week's terror attack in the West Bank were not included in the terms of the settlement construction moratorium.

Last week, following the deadly West Bank attack in which four Israelis - two of whom were residents the Beit Hagai - were killed, residents of the small settlement near Hebron declared an end to the Israeli moratorium on settlement building three weeks ahead of its expiration date and organized mass events in Kedumim and Beit Hagai.

However, a Haaretz probe revealed that the structures involved in these "freeze-ending" events were never included in the terms of the West Bank building moratorium.

The leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements convened in Beit Haggai the night of the murderous attack, announcing at a makeshift press conference that the settlement freeze was over and building projects would resume the following day.

Reverberations from the apparent breach of Israel's moratorium spread far and wide, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attending the peace summit in Washington at the time, urging Israelis to honor the law.

The two main events took place in Adam, where a community center was being built, and Kedumim where residents resumed the construction of an unfinished kindergarten. Both events were attended by reporters from around the world, documenting what they were told was the end of the freeze.

West Bank construction Sept. 2, 2010 Reuters

This was how a Yesha Council press release described the occasion: "At the end of the ceremony the order was given and residents, aided by local children, began forming the foundations of a new community center," saying it was to service "the more than thousand local children in various extra-curricular activities."

The Kedumim event, which took place in the settlement's Har Efraim neighborhood, was attended by 200 people, and saw work begin on a new kindergarten, as bulldozers dug the new foundations with residents later pouring in the concrete.

The head of the local council, Hananel Dorani, promised that the event did not represent a one-time symbolic measure, and that work teams would assemble the next day to continue construction.

However, as an investigation conducted by Haaretz showed, works in Adam, Kedumim, and Beit Hagai were all legal, for different reasons.

The Kedumin and Adam foundations, for instance, were both of public structures, which, unlike private structures, are not included in the terms of the settlement freeze.

In Beit Haggai, on the other hand, the foundations were laid prior to the freeze, making them, again, outside the terms of the moratorium.

In response to the Haaretz probe, the Yesha Council said: "After the attacks last week, we returned to build in different locations, some excluded from the freeze, such as a Kedumim, and some under the freeze order, such as Kiryat Arba and Beit Hagai. For us there is no difference. Do not worry, we promise that we will build in Yehuda and Shomron (the West Bank) in the coming year as well."