Haaretz exclusive / Anatomy of an outpost that put Netanyahu in a bind
The long saga of the Migron outpost, home to 50 families, began 12 years ago; High Court of Justice now ruled outpost to be demolished by end of March.
The first document in the huge Migron file kept by the Civil Administration in the West Bank was written in May 1999 by administration inspector Rami Akrai, who reported on unauthorized roadwork taking place west of the Ramallah bypass road.
Thus began the long saga of the Migron outpost, which 12 years later is home to 50 families. The High Court of Justice has ruled that the outpost must be demolished by the end of March. Until then, however, ministers, MKs, members of Likud and settlement adherents will be exerting enormous pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his ministers and state prosecutors to try and save the community. Indeed, its destruction will cause a serious political upheaval.
Haaretz has obtained the full Migron files from both the Civil Administration and the Housing and Construction Ministry. They paint a picture of the bureaucratic snafus that led to the birth and development of the outpost. While the left hand was making intensive efforts to identify illegal construction and preparing to demolish it, the right hand was pouring enormous resources into building it.
When, after the Oslo Accords, the construction of the Ramallah bypass road made the mountain overlooking the road a strategic spot, Pinhas Wallerstein, then head of the Binyamin Regional Council, decided to find a way to settle it.
First the site was declared an archaeological site. An archaeological site needs a watchman, and a watchman needs a shipping container to sleep in. Naturally he could not sleep there alone, so a few containers were needed, and to get them up there one needed to pave a road.
Thus the outpost began to take shape. Contrary to settlers' contentions, this was not uncultivated land: Aerial photographs from 1997 show that parts of the outpost's territory were being worked. Moreover, the land was registered in the names of Palestinians from Dir Dibuan and Burqa.
In fact, the Civil Administration managed to prevent the establishment of an outpost at that time; letters from 1999 describe negotiating with the handful of residents and getting them to evacuate willingly. But Wallerstein continued to think up ways to get people up there.
First he suggested building an ambulance depot there; that was rejected in November 1999. Then the second intifada broke out, and there were deadly shooting attacks on the road. Wallerstein suggested building a cellular antenna to improve coverage in case of emergency.
Pelephone agreed to erect an antenna, and a group of settlers soon followed, led by Itai Harel, the son of Israel Harel, one of the settlement leaders. In May 2001, Rami Akrai once again reported to the entire chain of command that a new outpost was going up.
For the new residents, the antenna - which as far as they were concerned had served its purpose - became a nuisance. The file contains intensive correspondence between Pelephone and the Civil Administration during 2002; Pelephone wanted to erect another mast to improve reception, but the residents resisted, fearing the radiation.
This led to an angry memo from Dudu Cohen, the communications staff officer in the Civil Administration, who wrote: "What has this come to? This is totally abnormal." He added that, as far as the administration was concerned, "The representatives of the 'community' have no right to object."
But the best was yet to come. Massive funding for the community was on its way from the Housing and Construction Ministry. The ministry's Migron file, which has hundreds of pages, describes the careful handling given to the outpost.
Between November 2002 and October 2004, a plan was drawn up for 180 housing units, landscaping, infrastructure and roads. Less than a year later, the plan was expanded to 500 housing units. Road and infrastructure work in the area began.
All told, a million shekels was spent on the access road to the outpost, and another NIS 1.8 million on infrastructure. Only in October 2004 did Mike Blass, a deputy attorney general, write a scathing letter to the director general of the Housing Ministry regarding illegal work that had been done to the tune of millions of shekels, which the state would have no choice but to pay for.
In March 2005, the Housing Ministry ordered the planner to immediately stop the work and submit a summary letter. From this letter it emerges that the state had funded a fence, lighting, earthwork, water and sewage systems, and electrical connections to the mobile homes at the site.
As a result, an investigation was opened against Yair Rafaeli, the Housing Ministry official who supervised the work. State attorney Moshe Lidor is still debating whether to prosecute him. The Justice Ministry said, "The file is in an advanced stage of processing. There is no decision yet in the case."
During this entire period, the Civil Administration was acting in a totally bipolar fashion.
Some officials in the administration knew that work was proceeding to build a settlement at Migron. For example, toward the end of 2002, the planning architects wrote to the administration asking for information about archaeological sites in the area that might interfere with the work, while in March 2002 the infrastructure staff officer approved the electricity connections.
Yet the Civil Administration's inspection unit continued to monitor what it persisted in describing as illegal construction. The administration's archive is full of real-time reports on the progress of the work at the site, with almost monthly reports going out to the decision-makers. The operations log of the Binyamin Brigade is also full of real-time reports on the erection of mobile homes at the site, which the army at times tried to prevent by force.
As the information continued to accumulate, the Civil Administration decided that it'd had enough. In July 2003, even as the Housing Ministry was pouring millions of shekels into development of the area, Civil Administration head Brig. Gen. Dov Zedaka recommended that the outpost be immediately evacuated.
On December 4, 2003, the West Bank legal adviser, Col. Shlomo Meiteles, wrote a letter to the Central Command commander, Zedaka and the military advocate-general relating to the demolishing of eight outposts, including Migron.
About Migron, Meiteles wrote that the outpost "was founded in 2001, and was built on private land that is properly registered to Palestinian owners. It should be stressed that the structures in the outpost are not on plots that it is claimed were purchased.
"There is a plan for the area [a reference to a plan to erect a regional emergency center]. There is absolutely no resemblance to the way the land is designated in this plan and the construction that is actually there. There is no way that this plan, even if it is advanced, can regularize this illegal construction.
"For this outpost there have already been 56 files opened for illegal construction," Meiteles continued. "We can act to evacuate all the buildings in the outpost without delay."
At the end of 2003, Migron was up in arms. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had told the heads of the Council of Jewish Communities in the West Bank that he was planning to evacuate Migron.
On December 14, there was a meeting with OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky and other senior officers that dealt with preparing for the evacuation. The operation was given the code name "Exposed Hill."
After that meeting, Kaplinsky wrote to the chief of General Staff that his men were ready for action, and asked him to "speed up the decision-making by the political echelon." The settler community began to mobilize, and people began to stream to the site to prevent its evacuation.
At the same time, settler representatives submitted documents to the Civil Administration indicating that the land had been purchased. Uzi Gilo, a land expert in the Civil Administration, later wrote an internal memo saying that the settlers had been victims of a fraud. "The person who sold the land to the settlers was not the owner of the land," he wrote.
Within weeks of all this, Sharon began speaking publicly about the disengagement from Gaza, and the evacuation of Migron dropped off the agenda.
In 2006, some of the landowners and Peace Now petitioned the High Court of Justice, asking it to order the evacuation of the outpost. The state admitted in court that the outpost had been built on private land, and would be evacuated by the end of 2007.
Then the evacuation was canceled, and instead the state said it would move the residents to state land adjacent to the settlement of Adam. But the settlers resisted, the state dragged its feet, and this August the court ordered the outpost demolished by March.
During the next few months, the settlers plan to press state prosecutors to ask for another hearing, claiming that while the land might have registered owners, many of them cannot be located. The State Attorney's Office, meanwhile, is adamantly opposed to this move.
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