Documents Reveal W. Bank Settlement Modi'in Illit Built Illegally

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

Illegal permits were issued for a new West Bank project while buildings were being constructed or even completed, according to documents Haaretz has obtained.

The project is the Modi'in Illit settlement neighborhood of Matityahu East, which is being built on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Bil'in.

An eyewitness reported that the illicit construction is proceeding, despite recent instructions from the settlement's planning and construction committee to stop the work.

The military government's Civil Administration chief planner, Shlomo Moskovitch, admitted the building permits for the new neighborhood Matityahu East in Modi'in Illit were issued illegally.

In another document the project's entrepreneur claims Modi'in Illit council head Yaakov Guterman promised he would issue building permits before the planning and construction committee dealt with the requests, as required.

The new neighborhood is being built on the private land of the Palestinian village Bil'in. The land was purchased by land dealers through dubious powers of attorney, then rezoned as state land and leased or sold to settlers' building companies.

The construction of the separation fence prompted the purchasers to implement their "rights" by hastily fixing facts on the ground.

Justice Ministry sources said yesterday that a "preliminary examination" conducted by the Civil Administration indicated the illegal construction in the neighborhood was stopped at the instruction of the local planning and construction committee of Modi'in Illit.

However, a Peace Now representative who visited the site that day reported the construction was proceeding as usual.

Earlier, the state advised the High Court of Justice that 750 housing units had already been built, and 520 out of them had been marketed. The state admitted the project consisted of "partially illegal building."

The 1998 master plan for the Modi'in Illit area shows the private land of Bil'in village included within the development plans for the year 2020.

Documents in Haaretz's possession show the rampant illegal construction is just the tip of the iceberg in a much graver affair.

`Purchasing' the land

On June 16, 2002 attorney Moshe Glick, who represents a settlers' association called the Society of the Foundation of the Land of Israel Midrasha Ltd. declared to attorney Doron Nir Zvi: "I hereby submit this sworn statement in the place of the mukhtar [head] of Bil'in. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Muhammad Ali Abed al-Rahman Bournat is the owner of the plot known as Bloc 2 Plot 134 in the village of Bil'in."

On November 16, 2003, Glick signed another sworn statement. The new statement was aimed at explaining the strange occurrence of an Israeli attorney swearing under oath, a procedure that is parallel to sworn testimony in a court, in the place of the mukhtar of an Arab village. From the new statement it emerges that Glick never set foot on the land to which his statement relates. "This sworn statement comes in place of a statement by the mukhtar of the village of Bil'in, as, because of the security situation, there is a real danger to the life of any Jew who tries to enter the village of Bil'in (and needless to say especially when it is a matter of the purchase of land). Moreover, there is a prohibition by the authorities forbidding Israeli citizens to enter Areas A and B."

The Civil Administration confirmed yesterday that the village of Bil'in is located in Area B, which is under Israel's full security control, and that Israeli citizens are allowed to visit there.

On the same day that Glick signed the sworn statement, the well-known land dealer Shmuel Anav appeared before him and also signed a sworn statement pertaining to that same plot. Anav, too, explained that the reasons it was impossible to bring an authorization by the mukhtar are the "security situation" and the prohibition on entering areas A and B.

Anav also declared that "the owner sold [the land] to his son and the son sold it to the Society of the Foundation." The owner died several years ago. His son, Sami, who according to inhabitants of Bil'in forged their signatures, was murdered in Ramallah at the beginning of 2005. Had the police taken the claim of the Bil'in inhabitants seriously and examined the sworn statements given in their mukhtar's name, they would have found that Anav's name has been linked to dubious land deals that turned out to be land theft.

After the "purchase," the Society of the Foundation transferred the land as a trust to the Civil Administration, which "converted" it into state land and leased it back to a settlers' building concern.

A year and a half ago, when former Civil Administration head Brigadier General Ilan Paz found out about the method of converting private Palestinian land into state land, then leasing or selling it to a building company - a process approved by the State Prosecution - he issued a written order to shut down the "land laundry."

These plots of land have already been used for building dozens of Jewish settlements and others are awaiting purchasers.

The master plan

Researchers from B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and from Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights, have obtained the map of "The Master Plan of the Modi'in Illit Area for the Year 2020."

The map confirms that not only security issues, if at all, guided the separation fence planners when they charted its route in the Bil'in area. The map was prepared in 1998 at the Housing Ministry's initiative with the Civil Administration's planning bureau and the Modi'in Illit and Mateh Binyamin councils.

The plan does not have statutory validity, but is a guiding document for the planning policy for a given area, and the master plans are formulated in its spirit.

The report shows that some 600 dunams next to the plan for Matityahu East, owned by a few Bil'in families, is slated for the construction of 1,200 new housing units for settlers. Less than two months ago Bil'in's inhabitants discovered a new road had been cut through from the Matityahu East neighborhood to a large grove of olive trees in the area.

This confirms the fears that the separation fence is really intended to implement the master plan from seven years ago.

Stopping the construction

About a month ago, after Haaretz published the first part of the research, the Civil Administration demanded Modi'in Illit council issue orders to stop the construction work.

On Sunday the Civil Administration advised attorney Michael Sfard, who represents the residents of Bil'in, that the local planning committee had ordered the construction to stop. Sfard wrote to the Civil Administration that Dror Etkes, the head of Peace Now's Settlement Watch Project, visited the construction site and saw the construction work was proceeding at an even greater pace. In addition, Etkes noticed the houses were filling with inhabitants.

Sfard said he intended to petition to the High Court of Justice against the Civil Administration for inaction - in addition to the petition about the fence and the neighborhood separating Bil'in's residents from their land.



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