With Freeze Over, Yesha Council Spearheading Massive Boom in Illegal Construction in Settlements and Outposts

Two rows of apartment buildings are going up in the Neveh Shoham neighborhood of Eli, without construction permits.

Since the end of September, when the partial moratorium on construction ended, there has been a massive amount of illegal building in the settlements. The construction effort is extensive, in well-established communities and illegal outposts alike, and is being led by Amana, the settlement branch of the Yesha Council of Settlements.

Two armed guards stand at the entrance to the construction site in Ofra, which began in 1975 as a "work camp" on the site of an abandoned Jordanian army base. That "work camp" has come to life in the past two months: Around 40 homes are replacing the old Jordanian buildings, without construction permits or Civil Administration supervision.

Illegal construction in the Neveh Shoham neighborhood of the Eli settlement in the West Bank.Motti Milrod

In late 2002, when enforcement began of the law against unauthorized construction, nine new homes that Amana built in Amona were demolished. In the wake of this measure, and the Sasson Report that followed, Amana scaled back its illegal activities in the territories. Interim orders by the High Court of Justice forced the suspension of construction of new neighborhoods in Rahelim, Halamish and Kiryat Netafim.

Amana's reasons for halting construction were practical as well as political: The organization "insures" homebuyers against legal enforcement, promising to refund their money if needed. The suspended projects cost Amana a great deal of money.

But the bulldozers have returned. Two rows of apartment buildings are going up in the Neveh Shoham neighborhood of Eli, without construction permits. Amana does not hide the building activity, and even advertises the buildings in the weekly Torah portion pamphlets distributed in synagogues throughout the country: "Eli - everything that's important without leaving the community. It's not a city, it's Eli."

New homes are being built in the unauthorized outpost of Brukhin, in Samaria. Yesha Council leaders recently stopped taking Israeli leaders on tours of the community to show them the consequences of the Sasson Report, because the construction was renewed without the proper permits.

The construction of 20 residential units, suspended a few years ago in the earliest stages, was renewed a month ago. It was suspended again two weeks ago after an employee was electrocuted and severely injured.

The reason for the lack of enforcement of the construction freeze on Amana's building site has been the Civil Administration's focus on enforcement in other areas. Three weeks ago the agency demolished a memorial to a fallen soldier at a spring in Alon Moreh, smashing a reservoir and uprooting fruit trees. A few days before the administration destroyed a goatshed at Meshek Ahiya and a road in the Kana River Wadi funded by the Palestinian Authority. Last week it demolished 11 Palestinian buildings in Hirbet Tana, east of Nablus.

Left-wing activist Dror Etkes, who monitors illegal building in the territories, said this week, "We haven't seen illegal building of this magnitude since 2002. As in the previous wave eight years ago, Amana is leading the construction. In any normal place it would be declared illegal and its leaders prosecuted," Etkes said.

Amana secretary general Ze'ev Haber declined to respond.