An abandoned military base sits in the middle of Beit Dagan, surrounded by piles of construction waste, empty beer bottles and jerry cans of oil. The location is prime: along a major highway in central Israel. Yet instead of freeing up the land for other purposes, like residential construction, the Israel Defense Forces are still holding onto this abandoned base.
Nor is Beit Dagan unique. The IDF has several other abandoned bases, all in prime urban locations where land for housing is in short supply. The Vered Base in Be'er Sheva was abandoned in 2007; now, it is mainly used by drug addicts. There's also the Abu Ghosh base, the Military Police compound in Tiberias, a base in Kastina and a fuel depot in Ashdod.
Altogether, the IDF had dozens of abandoned bases as of January 2010, covering an area of more than 38,000 dunams.
Commenting on the recent socioeconomic protests, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "we at the Defense Ministry think it's very important that we, too, should contribute to this matter. Our suggestion is to evacuate abandoned IDF bases so that they can be handed over for civilian use."
That statement comes five months after a State Comptroller's report lambasted the IDF over this issue and demanded that it do something about the abandoned bases.
The report found that the IDF controls 39 percent of Israel's land (within the Green Line ), including both bases and firing zones, and restricts civilian use of another 40 percent of the country's land. Of the land the IDF controls, six percent consists of abandoned bases.
Some years ago, the IDF decided to return 55 bases to the Israel Lands Administration so the land could be used for other purposes. The Finance Ministry agreed to provide the necessary funds. But the decision was never implemented.
Instead, according to the comptrollers report, the number of abandoned bases soared, by 60 percent. The IDF Plans and Policy Directorate blamed the regional commands, saying they often abandon bases without permission.
The comptroller found that many of the abandoned bases have no signs warning people not to enter. They also attract metal thieves, who strip buildings of their metal and leave them in danger of collapse.
In some cases, like the Beit Dagan base, the land is severely polluted. The Environmental Protection Ministry has repeatedly asked the army to deal with the problem, but to no avail.
The army says the ILA should pay for the clean-up, while the ILA refuses to take the land until it is clean. So far, this dispute remains unresolved.
In 2005 the army started evacuating the Kastina base, but ran out of money in 2007. The army said it needed NIS 1 million to finish the move. But since then, the comptroller found, it has paid millions of shekels in municipal taxes on this land, which it wouldn't have had to pay had it finished the evacuation and returned the land to the ILA.
Following that report, the IDF finally did find money to finish the move.
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