Sasson: 61 Outposts Built on non-Israeli Land

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Many of the outposts built in the territories since March 2001 were established on lands that are not state-owned: 15 are on private Palestinian land, and 46 on lands of unknown ownership, Attorney Talia Sasson, author of the report on illegal outposts, said yesterday.

"The Housing Ministry was virtually indifferent to the question of who owns the land," Sasson said at a news conference in Jerusalem, after submitting her report on the outposts commissioned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Sasson said that she had not received all the material on the outposts from the three bodies involved in establishing them, leaving some points unclear regarding their manner of operations.

Asked whether government ministers were involved in actions taken by their ministries, Sasson said: "I don't know whether we can say that the ministers did not know what was going on in their ministries."

In preparing her report, Sasson met with some 100 functionaries, and attended meetings on the subject. "I did not get to all of the necessary information," Sasson wrote in the report summary. "Not everyone I approached agreed to talk to me... Some came to a meeting, but refused to relate to the point most of the questions posed."

Sasson's report includes serious evidence, and the full version was transfered to the attorney general to consider indictments.

The report presents a picture of numerous governmental bodies cooperating while commiting blatant offenses to establish outposts, including bringing in mobile homes without proper permits, and connecting infrastructures to the outposts.

The defense minister's settlement affairs adviser, Ron Shechner, committed some of the alleged crimes, the report states, by sending letters to the settlement division at the World Zionist Organization saying that certain outposts are independent communities that should be given a budget and community symbol.

"This indicates that the defense minister's assistant gave the division a directive likely to deceive the division into thinking that the outposts have clearance from the political echelon," Sasson said.

Shechner also approved movement of trailers for placement in illegal locations. Sasson recommended canceling the adviser's post or appointing someone who does not represent the settlers' interests.

Sasson was highly critical of the Construction and Housing Ministry, which planned illegal outposts without any cabinet decision having been made on the matter. A large share of the ministry's budget, allocated for the Rural Construction Administration, was directed to construction in the territories and for illegal outposts. This is how at least 105 illegal outposts came into being, but Sasson said this number does not reflect the actual number of outposts.

Sasson said the budgets directed toward the outposts in recent years are unknown, and the ministry has yet to provide the information. The figure she was given - NIS 71 million - is much lower than the work plans carried out in practice.

Sasson said the Civil Administration provided clearances for hooking up electricity and water to outposts that were not allowed to connect to these infrastructure grids, and that its monitoring unit enforces building codes only on the Palestinians and not on Jewish settlements.

The WZO's Settlement Division established a large share of the illegal outposts and allocated lands against the Jordanian law that applies in the territories. Sasson recommended stopping the division's activity in the territories "except in concrete cases."

A division spokesman said it "operates in accordance with government regulations, which are Israeli regulations, not Jordanian."

Sasson concluded her report by warning against an erosion of the rule of law: "The outposts are being built in the territories of Judea and Samaria, but the settlers and the authorities working to build the are Israeli."

Housing Minister Isaac Herzog announced last night that the head of the Rural Construction Administration, Sarah Aharon, would be stripped of her powers immediately. Herzog stressed that he lays full responsibility for the whole affair on former housing minister Effi Eitam.

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