Enforcer of West Bank Building Laws Promoting Development in His Settlement

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

As the deputy head of a Civil Administration unit responsible for cracking down on illegal construction in the West Bank, Rami Ziv has often seen Israeli settlers protesting outside his home because of demolition orders his unit had issued.

Yet while he was issuing demolition orders by day, Ziv was at one point meeting by night with representatives of Amana - the company that builds housing for settlements - in an effort to win good terms for construction in his own settlement, Peduel.

Across from the negotiating table at these meetings sat Ze'ev Hever, the secretary general of Amana, or his representatives.

Hever's connections go way beyond Rami Ziv. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's door is open to him, as is that of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and various senior officials in the Civil Administration.

The relationship between Hever and Ziv, who are ostensibly on opposite sides of settlement construction (with Hever building and Ziv tearing down) is just one example of the intricate links and conflicts of interest that exist between the settlement enterprise and the state apparatus that is supposed to keep it in check.

Those relationships don't appear to be disintegrating with the changing of the guard at the Civil Administration. When Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz was replaced as its head by Brig. Gen. David Menachem last week, Hever was very much in the fray, bringing Almoz a gift from the chain bookstore Tzomet Sfarim and huddling for an extended conversation with Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the army's coordinator of government activities in the territories.

The last state comptroller's report on the issue, which charged that people are pretty much doing whatever they want when it comes to settlement construction, doesn't seem to have made much of a dent.

As for Ziv, he is a veteran Civil Administration inspector and has been in his current post as deputy head of enforcement monitoring in the West Bank for three years. He was the first to document the construction of the Migron and Amona outposts, which were the sites of serious clashes between pro-settlement protesters and security officials evacuating those areas. The demonstrations outside his home have taken place in the last few years, because of demolition orders he has issued.

At the same time, Ziv believes in the ideology of Jewish settlement of the West Bank and acts on that belief. In 1984 he helped found the settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus, and has since moved to the settlement of Peduel, where he lives now. One of his neighbors there is Bentzi Lieberman, the former head of the Yesha Council of settlements who is currently chairman of the Israel Lands Administration.

Ziv is considered an honest and brave inspector, but also one who is cautious about damaging his relationships with friends who live on other settlements. In a May article, this newspaper reported that as part of a 2007 police investigation of Amana, which is essentially the construction arm of the Yesha Council, Ziv traveled with police investigators to point out illegal Amana buildings in Psagot but asked them to wait until he wasn't with them before they photographed the buildings, so as not to damage his relationship with his contacts on the settlement. He also refused a police request to provide an official description of the process by which the buildings he pointed out were constructed illegally. Ziv said that at the point it was unnecessary.

In his own settlement of Peduel, Ziv is a dominant figure. He used to head Peduel's construction committee, but in 2010 became a rank-and-file member of the committee rather than its chairman. His role on the committee comes despite the fact that, in his capacity as deputy head of the Civil Administration housing enforcement unit, he is the superior of the official who inspects the housing in Peduel that Ziv is promoting (though it must be said that, so far at least, all construction in Peduel is legal).

In 2009, the residents of Peduel began working on expanding the settlement. Several dozen housing units – a fairly significant expansion for a settlement as small as Peduel -- was planned for an area that had already been approved for construction. The contractor selected for the project was Binyanei Bar Amana, a subsidiary of Amana.

Sources have told Haaretz that Ziv played a central role in the negotiations conducted with Amana over getting good conditions for construction in his settlement, even as he was issuing demolition orders for Amana buildings while wearing his Civil Administration hat. Ziv says he doesn't see that as a conflict of interest.

In September 2010, after 10 months of a freeze on settlement construction, the settlers were concerned about another possible construction freeze and intensive construction began as soon as the first freeze ended (the second freeze the settlers feared was not enacted).

Peduel had reached an agreement with Amana to start building as soon as the settlement freeze ended, but only a single bulldozer arrived, and even that was removed a short time later.

Residents suspected that the construction company was not interested in quickly building housing in Peduel; as such, foundations were laid out in four months – while in a neighboring settlement, that process took just one month.

An urgent meeting was scheduled in Jerusalem between Hever, Ziv and other officials. At that meeting, Hever agreed to allocate bulldozers to Peduel right away for the immediate construction of 22 ground-floor housing units, and Hever followed through with his promise, according to a source present at the meeting.

But there were other bumps on the road. As the contractor, Amana wanted to increase its profits, while the settlement was more interested in making Peduel an attractive place to live. The two sides argued over the number of housing units that would be built, the funding of community buildings and the price of each home.

Along with other residents of Peduel, Ziv was appointed a representative of the settlement in negotiations with Amana. Officials who ranked lower than Hever took part in these talks, which on Amana's part were attended mainly by Yehuda Regev, a middle manager. The disputes continued and at a certain point it looked like talks were about to reach a standstill.

Ziv and the other Peduel representatives wanted the new apartments to cost no more than NIS 650,000, while Amana said that it wouldn't build new homes if they were to be sold at such a low price. They eventually agreed to NIS 1 million per home and construction began in earnest. Today most of the homes have been sold.

Rami Ziv, Civil Administration official responsible for cracking down on settlement construction.