The prevailing atmosphere when it comes to planning and construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank is "everyone does as he sees fit," State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote in his report about defense issues published Wednesday.
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The report contains a special section dedicated to the West Bank, in which the comptroller accuses the Civil Administration of failing to enforce planning laws, due to fear of the anticipated reaction from settlers.
Civil Administration “inspectors are likely to encounter stiff opposition from settlers of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] if they enforce the laws,” the report notes.
One of the chapters of the state comptroller’s report concerns criminal law enforcement. Unlike in Israel, in the West Bank there is no criminal law enforcement when it comes to violations of planning and construction. Instead there are administrative procedures for demolition, which are rarely implemented.
According to the report, the Israel Police and Civil Administration inspectors refuse to take action against offenders in the West Bank who violate planning or construction laws. In private meetings, the Israel Police has argued that such action is not in its jurisdiction, adding that throughout Israel municipalities investigate suspected building violations and, when necessary, file indictments against the offenders.
The Civil Administration, for its part, says a manpower shortage prevents it from enforcing the law. It also said it fears the potential reaction of West Bank settlers should the administration try to enforce the law.
In January 2012, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein wrote a letter to then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, requesting his intervention in the matter. However, State Comptroller Shapira concluded that the lack of law enforcement related to planning and construction violations "helps perpetuate the status quo of 'everyone does as he sees fit' in the West Bank. It is vital that the ministers this issue concerns – the defense minister, public security minister and justice minister – take steps to regulate it.”
In response to the state comptroller’s report, the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, said this matter is being addressed.
Army, police trade blame over traffic violations
Meanwhile, the state comptroller also found negligence on the part of Israeli authorities in the West Bank with regard to traffic violations. In 2008, the military prosecution stopped handling traffic-violation cases against Palestinians, with the exception of fatal road accidents. The Israel Police protested this move and sent angry letters to the Israel Defense Forces, while the military prosecution claimed the police was responsible for indicting suspected Palestinian traffic offenders in cases not involving the loss of human life.
As a result, responsibility for handling such cases – some 5,000 per year – was assigned to three police officers, only one of whom has had legal training. In his report, the comptroller writes that the current situation, in which law enforcement against Palestinian traffic offenders is being seriously undermined, must be taken seriously.
In response to the report, the Israel Police placed responsibility squarely with the military prosecution, while the military said the police should be held accountable.
The State Comptroller also examined the IDF’s conduct with regard to law enforcement, noting that the army is shirking its responsibility on that front. The report said the IDF's securityorders do not explicitly refer to law enforcement and that the subject was also not raised at end-of-the-year summary sessions held with various brigades.
In his report, Shapira writes that senior military commanders must consider how to give sufficient emphasis to law enforcement during year-end reviews, so that conclusions can be drawn with regard to law enforcement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].”
The IDF welcomed the state comptroller's report, saying in response, "The main task of the IDF in the West Bank is to defend the residents and preserve security stability. In addition, the IDF has the duty to keep public order in the region, which includes general responsibility for law enforcement. The duty to enforce the law in the West Bank is internalized by the commanding officers and the soldiers. This duty is learned and practiced, in cooperation with the Israel Police and the Border Police, before the troops begin work in the sector.
"Effective law enforcement in the West Bank requires cooperation of all the law-enforcement agencies and relevant government ministries. The IDF attaches great importance to preserving security and carrying out inspections in the industrial zones of the West Bank, and does so on an ongoing basis to ensure the security of the residents and the citizens in the industrial zones. It will learn the lessons of the report so that it may put them into practice.”