Israel Drops Probe Into Illegal Construction at Beit El Settlement

State cites 'lack of public interest' even though developer admitted he knew he was building on private land.

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Prayer rally in Beit El settlement of 2012.
Prayer rally in Beit El settlement of 2012.Credit: Emil Salman
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan has decided to drop the investigation of Yoel Tzur, CEO of a development company that built the Ulpana neighborhood in the settlement of Beit El, due to “lack of public interest.”

Tzur is a veteran activist from Beit El and has headed the company for the last 20 years. His wife and son were murdered in 1996 in a terrorist shooting attack. Following the attack, Tzur began to develop settlement neighborhoods in their memory. In 2000, he started construction in the Jebel Artis area north of Beit El, outside its jurisdiction, in a sector in which all lands are registered under the names of Palestinians living in adjacent villages.

In 2008, just before the new buildings were occupied, landowners and the Yesh Din human rights group, represented by attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zecharia, petitioned the High Court of Justice, requesting the demolition of 30 apartments in five of these buildings. Twenty-eight of the homes belonged to Tzur’s company, which had rented them out.

At first the state decided to demolish the apartments, but retracted the decision under intense political pressure. Ultimately a compromise was reached in which settlers were to voluntarily evacuate the apartments, and the state would construct temporary housing for them and 30 new, permanent units. Also, a Border Police installation would be replaced with 300 additional new units.

Yesh Din also filed a complaint for trespassing against Tzur. Tzur admitted that he knew one plot was on private land, but that he had built there anyway, without any permits.

In June 2010 the Judea and Samaria police division decided to close the case. After the decision was appealed, the investigation was resumed by former State Prosecutor Moshe Lador. Nevertheless, current state prosecutor Nitzan has again decided to close the file due to “lack of public interest,” stating that the “complaint was lodged after a long delay, which makes it difficult to efficiently investigate the matter. The delay reduced public interest in the investigation. Furthermore, the relevant structures have been removed, making it even less important to pursue a criminal investigation.” It was not explained why Tzur’s admission is not sufficient evidence for filing charges.

Nitzan’s decision is surprising, given Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s policy of viewing building infractions in the West Bank as criminal offenses, as is customary in Israel. For two years, he has been sending letters to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, asking him to set up a mechanism within the Civil Administration to enable prosecution in such cases. So far, no lawbreaker has been brought to trial in cases under investigation, and now the case against Tzur has been closed as well.

According to Sfard, the legal counsel of Yesh Din, Nitzan’s claim that “the long time that has elapsed since the infraction prevents further investigation is no more than an evasion, since the suspect confessed to the transgression. The state prosecutor dragged his feet for three years in his previous post and caused these delays, leading the landowners to petition the High Court. He now uses this delay and the sloppy police investigation as an excuse for closing the file. The state prosecutor and all the law enforcement agencies in Israel have demonstrated yet again that transgressors against Palestinian property are completely immune from prosecution.”

Yoel Tzur did not respond to requests for comment.

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