Israel's AG Pushing to Try Violators for Illegal Construction in West Bank

Despite strong evidence of violating a High Court injunction, the police closed case against leader of illegal construction in the territories.

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For the past year and a half, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has been pushing an initiative aimed at starting to try violators for building illegally in the territories, but a Haaretz investigation has found that law enforcement agencies tend to deal lightly with such criminal cases. Despite having strong evidence, the police recently closed a case against Ze’ev Hever, secretary-general of Amana and the chief violator in this regard, for defying a High Court injunction.

Amana is the construction arm of the settlement movement.

In late 2008, construction began on nine permanent homes in the Rahelim outpost in the northern West Bank. There is no master plan for Rahelim and therefore no building permits can be issued there. In March 2009, the head of the nearby A-Sawiya village, together with the human rights group Yesh Din, filed a High Court petition requesting an injunction to prevent the homes from being occupied, and a judicial order for the demolition of the houses. Ten days later, Judge Hanan Meltzer issued an injunction saying, “Construction in the territory referenced in the petition should not continue, no deals should be made concerning the buildings and they should not be populated anymore.”

Despite the clear order, construction continued and settlers moved into six of the homes. As a result, the Civil Administration filed a complaint with the police claiming the injunction was violated. When the investigation was complete, an indictment was issued against Noam Shamba, the community’s secretary, for giving a false statement to the High Court saying that the homes were already populated when in fact they were not.

A review of the case file shows that Shamba is the only one being charged, despite clear evidence of Amana’s involvement. Every resident of an Amana outpost, numbering in the dozens, pays them NIS 30 a month, and this money goes toward investment in illegal construction in the territories. But even though Hever, the Amana secretary-general, is a frequent visitor to police interrogation rooms, time after time he avoids being tried.

All the evidence in the file, which include various documents found by the police, point to Amana’s deep involvement. In September 2011 a resident named Shmuel Nadav was questioned and described the following scenario.

“I bought the apartment with my own money from Amana," he told investigators. "I moved in to the house in the summer of 2011," about two years after the injunction. "As far as I know there is a permit. I was told that there was a permit for everything.” Another resident, Shmuel Silber, testified that he moved into his house in 2010, and that all the houses were empty at the time. He bought the house from Amana for NIS 450,000, or about $127,000, which is very low for the Israeli real estate market. Community board members who were questioned also indicated that Amana was involved.

Shabtai Bendet, the community secretary, said, “It’s an Amana project. Amana led the construction. I didn’t deal with contractors.”

One of the documents uncovered, which includes the protocols from an October 2010 meeting, ties Hever to an attempt to complete the infrastructure around the three houses despite the injunction. Hever was questioned under caution in July 2011, but invoked his right to remain silent. As part of the police’s lenient approach, no search warrants were issued for the Amana offices and no attempt was made to obtain the relevant documents.

“Your continued handling and investigation of the case, rather than completing the planning process, amounts to continued abuse of the pioneering settlers of Rahelim,” Hever admonished the investigators. “It is my hope that the state will fulfill its obligation and complete the planning process.” Last year, the case against Hever was closed.

Hever declined to respond to questions from a Haaretz reporter.

A police spokesman said: “The investigation mentioned in the request was conducted in the Shomron District and at the end of the investigation the file was transferred to the Judea and Samaria Region prosecutor’s office. After examining the entire investigative material the prosecution decided there was no evidentiary basis as to the crime of violating the [High Court] order, among other reasons because of the evidentiary difficulty in proving awareness of the order. The indictment filed against one of the suspects was filed for the crime of presenting a false affidavit to the High Court of Justice and not for violating the [court] order as is suspected of the others involved.”

Ze'ev Hever, right, with IDF Spokesperson Yoav Moredechai, then head of Civil Administration, center.Credit: Tess Scheflan
Construction in the West Bank.Credit: Nir Kafri

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