Givatayim, Israel's most expensive city
Givatayim's skyline Photo by Dan Kleinan
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Squatting is a very valuable source of income for criminals. The intruder takes over a plot of land designated for development, gains a foothold for himself, sets up shop there and entrenches himself at the site until he receives generous compensation to leave.

The criminal squatters take advantage of weak enforcement in Israel, which is unable to deal with squatters on public land and is hesitant to confront crime organizations, preferring instead to "get along with them."

Haaretz reporters Sharon Shpurer and Maya Zinshtein exposed Wednesday how the state had lost tens of millions of shekels in a transaction for the sale of Givatayim land slated for development due to squatters on a portion of the property. The site is one of the most expensive in the Tel Aviv area - on Friedman Street across from the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange.

The intruders included underworld figure Nissim Alperon, who operated a car wash on the site. Instead of evicting the intruder itself, the state sold the site at a discount to Eurocom Real Estate, which in turn paid Alperon NIS 10 million to leave. The company also compensated businessman Reuven Gavrieli, who has been accused of money laundering and illegal gambling, and who maintained a metal workshop at the location.

The Friedman Street deal has been described as the covert privatization of law enforcement. The state is evading its obligations and instead of enforcing its rights as owner of the land and imposing its authority against trespassers, it sells its assets with the squatters left in place, and instead provides a subsidy to real estate developers for them to work things out with the criminals.

The cost of the eviction is reflected in a deal for a sale at less than the land's market value. The public is therefore indirectly paying extortion fees and protection money to the crime families.

The phenomenon disclosed in Givatayim is well known in Israel, and it distorts the allocation of public resources, causes prolonged delays in rehabilitation and development of poor areas and enhances both the power and the appetite of the criminals who threaten the public.

Instead of subsidizing the crime families, the state should come to its senses and fight the squatters through enforcement of the law, requiring the police to evict them within 30 days.

The weakness exhibited by the authorities and their inclination to privatize enforcement and eviction procedures simply makes the problem worse.