West Bank Settlement Outpost's Newest Attraction: An Airstrip

So far at least, the dubious legality of the makeshift runway near the settlement of Itamar doesn't seem to be bothering residents or law enforcement authorities.

The West Bank settlement outposts are not necessarily the barebones trailer-scattered hilltops many may envision. Some of them boast bed and breakfasts, vineyards – and now, for the first time, an airstrip.

So far at least, the dubious legality of the makeshift runway doesn't seem to be bothering either the residents or the law enforcement authorities.

The airstrip, located on the Alumot outpost near the settlement of Itamar, is the brainchild of Yedidya Meshulami, who helped found it after moving to the area in 1996. Meshulami, who comes from a well-known family in religious Zionist circles, served in the Israel Air Force and is a trained military helicopter pilot.

Alumot, which is also known as Givat Hatayas (meaning "The Pilot's Hill"), was built partly on state land allocated to the World Zionist Organization and partly on Palestinian land, according to a government report on the settlements.

Meshulami has a herd of goats on the outpost, which he uses to make hard cheeses for sale. A few months ago he decided to make a "connection between the heavens and the earth," as he put it, and prepare a runway on his own, with the help of a tractor. Last week he started working on the hangar where he plans to store the secondhand ultralight plane he bought for NIS 80,000, which he already uses periodically to fly around the West Bank.

The problem is that ultralight planes are banned in the West Bank, since IAF regulations state that planes must fly at an altitude of at least 8,000 feet in the area – too high for the ultralights. So far, though, the IAF has been silent on the matter.

Within the Green Line, Israelis need a permit to build an airstrip, but the Israel Airports Authority doesn't operate in the West Bank.

It's not surprising that the hilltops surrounding Itamar would be the source of the action, since over the last few years they have become what some call the Wild West of the settlements. Unlike on many other outposts, there is no organized leadership to speak of there, and the Civil Administration has all but given up efforts to enforce the law.

Asked for its response to the airstrip, the Civil Administration would say only: "The issue is being handled."
 

Moti Milrod