Who Inspects the Senior West Bank Building Inspector?

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A senior official at the agency that is supposed to enforce building regulations in the West Bank expanded his own house seven years ago despite not having a permit.

Yigal Rotem is a veteran inspector for the inspection unit of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank. In recent years, he has been responsible for enforcing building laws throughout the West Bank’s Binyamin region. He is also a resident of the Ramat Zvi neighborhood of the settlement of Ofra – a neighborhood built entirely without permits, on privately owned Palestinian land, about 20 years ago.

Rotem’s place of residence has been known to all the heads of the Civil Administration for years, but they never ordered him to move. According to him, this is because 20 years ago, that kind of behavior was standard practice. In 2005, however, government attorney Talia Sasson prepared a report on illegal construction in the settlements that was subsequently adopted by the cabinet, and since then the Civil Administration’s attitude toward illegal construction has changed substantially.

Sasson set four criteria for building violations, which were adopted by then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. One of them relates to the existence of a master plan. Since Ofra has no master plan for construction, no building permits at all can be issued in the settlement, and all building there is thus illegal.

Still, Rotem expanded his house significantly seven years ago, despite having no permit. Aerial photographs of the neighborhood show the vast difference between his expanded house and the houses of his neighbors, which look unchanged since they were built 20 years ago.

Yet somehow, on all their inspection tours of Ofra in recent years, Civil Administration inspectors have overlooked Rotem’s building violations. Most of the other nearby houses have been served with demolition orders, but Rotem’s hasn’t.

It should be noted, however, that whether or not a demolition order has been issued makes scant difference, since thousands of such orders have been served but very few have ever been enforced. In 2009, the state promised to pay especially careful attention to building violations in Ofra, given the settlement’s unique circumstances, yet it has refrained from razing an entire neighborhood that Amana, the settlement movement’s construction arm, has since begun building.

Nevertheless, the failure to serve Rotem with a demolition order aptly symbolizes the way the Civil Administration uses its discretion.

The Civil Administration said it was “aware of the matter. The building in question was built many years ago, in a community that was established with the government’s permission.”

File photo: Cars drive past Ofra.Credit: AP

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