A Win for Nature, a Loss for Lawlessness

Yossi Saadon stood yesterday morning in the area adjacent to the Mifgash Hiriya gas station at the edge of the Geha Highway, watching the huge shovels of the supervisory division of the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which had begun to demolish the horse ranch that his father built in the 1970s.

"Do you know what the problem is? That today in the State of Israel the person who decides is an ILA official instead of a prime minister, the way it used to be," complains Saadon.

And he's right, it really used to be like that. On January 31, 1970, an agreement was signed for the construction of the Mifgash Hiriya gas station between Eliyahu Saadon, Yossi's father, and Yaakov Kalu. According to his sons, Saadon Sr., a prominent figure in Mapai (the forerunner of Labor) in the 1950s and 1960s, also served as the head of personal security for his good friend, prime minister David Ben-Gurion.

Yaakov Kalu, a disabled Israel Defense Forces veteran who lives in Bat Yam, received the franchise for the gas station because he was a disabled veteran.

"My father, who was close to Ben-Gurion, received this land from him in appreciation of his activity in building the country in its early years, and in establishing Or Yehuda, which he named after one of his army commanders who was killed," said Yossi.

And then, yesterday morning, 40 years after his father built the gas station, ILA representatives came and informed Saadon Jr. that the area surrounding the gas station has been transferred to state ownership. They directed his attention to the ILA signs posted at the site.

Building after building, lean-to after lean-to, the shovel of the contractor hired by the ILA doesn't stop. Only from time to time, when Yossi, in a long black coat and cowboy hat, shouts at the driver "No, no, that's iron, leave it alone, let me earn some money," does the shovel slow down.

But according to a senior ILA official, the modest facade of Yossi and his brother Tzuri, who are now walking around confused between the shovels and the ILA trucks, conceals an industry that for years produced millions of shekels for them.

A few meters into the open area between the horse ranch and the back part of the Hiriya landfill lie thousands of tons of waste of all kinds, mainly from construction and industry, which were brought to the site daily by dozens of trucks. "It has, in effect, turned into 'Hiriya 2,'" an ILA official told Haaretz, "and we suspect that the person who ran this site and caused tremendous environmental damage for years is Yossi Saadon, who took over an area seven times the size of the site that he leases from the state legally."

Saadon claims he has no connection to the pirate garbage dump that operated under his nose, and says the land on which he built the horse ranch was also received by his father in appreciation from the state in exchange for other areas, including the land on which Moshav Tzafariya, near Lod, was built.

But the ILA insists that this is not the case, and for years has been conducting a legal battle to bring about the evacuation of the pirate structures built by the Saadon family over the years on the area adjacent to the Hiriya landfill.

It should be mentioned that the access road to the Ariel Sharon park is slated to be built through this area, but the ILA rejects the claims that the park's construction accelerated the removal of the buildings from the area. "There's a huge quantity of waste here, which at any given moment causes tremendous damage to the environment," says Yossi Cohen, regional director of the supervisory division of the ILA's Tel Aviv district. "The access road to the park is supposed to be built on this land, but in the present situation, as a result of the fact that trash was dumped here for years, it cannot be paved."

Soon, says Cohen, a contractor will begin to remove the waste, shredding it and transferring it to the adjacent landfill in Hiriya, by means of a bridge to be built above the Ayalon River that separates the pirate site and Hiriya. "All the expenses involved, which I estimate at hundreds of millions of shekels, we plan to claim from those who ran the pirate garbage dump over the years."

As mentioned, the ILA knows that Saadon himself was behind the garbage dump's operation, and used to collect a fee for every truck that entered the site full of trash and left empty, but they also admit that it will be hard to prove in court.

The taking over of state lands is very common in the area of south Tel Aviv, where the ranch is located. The ILA battles daily against citizens who do not hesitate to create facts on the ground. The ILA wants to prevent a situation in which evictions are liable to last for years, and cost the state a great deal of money in exhausting legal proceedings.

A senior ILA official said that in recent years there have been quite a few cases of "professional squatting" - deliberate squatting by citizens who hope that someone will pay them for leaving the area. In many cases the state discovers a criminal environment in these areas that strikes fear into official state bodies that are supposed to enforce the law. "Up until three years ago, we used to handle 19 cases of squatting a week in the Tel Aviv area alone, but we began to fight against this phenomenon with full force, and have managed to reduce the incidents to one squatting a month on average," says Cohen.