Israeli Official: Housing Ministry Invaded Privately-owned Palestinian Land

Col. Ofer Hindi tells Knesset committee that the Defense Ministry did not take the necessary steps to prevent a road near Givat Ze'ev from being expropriated from Palestinians.

The supervisor in charge of the Defense Ministry’s separation barrier project accuses the Ministry of Housing and Construction and police of breaking the law and invading privately-owned Palestinian lands in the West Bank.

The supervisor, Col. Ofer Hindi, said that the Defense Ministry did not take the necessary steps to prevent a road from being expropriated from Palestinians.The road was originally seized for “security purposes,” but now it serves as a shortcut for residents of Agan Ha’ayalot, a new ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev, to Route 443.

Recently,the IDF blocked the road's exit from Agan Ha’ayalot to Route 443, but the land has not been returned to its owners and the money that was used to finance the paving of the road will not be returned to the public. Residents of Givat Ze’ev have requested to open the intersection and place traffic signs, a traffic light and a bus station there.

During a Knesset discussion on July 17, which was attended by committee chairman Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), Rabbi David Aharon Ze’ev, who is in charge of transportation in the Agan Ha’ayalot neighborhood, complained that when his wife needs to drive to Modi’in, he must “take her on the main road, then she must cross the separation barrier, drive on the bridge and then walk to the Beit Horon station. If there was a proper road (if the intersection was properly arranged – A.E.), we could drive to Modi’in or anywhere else in a matter of minutes.”

During the discussion, Col. Ofer Hindi clarified that the road was built on private Palestinian land.

“Everything that is being done there today, including whoever laid the asphalt, did not act innocently and did act against the law. When you drive your wife, you are driving on a road where traffic is prohibited, on a security road, on private lands. Thus, if something happens to you, you will sue yourself and only yourself. Of course I will not support illegal actions, and everything that is happening there is against the law.”

Hindi discovered that the Civil Administration issued a stop-work order for laying the asphalt, but the order was never enforced.

Chairman of the Givat Ze’ev Local Council Yossi Avrahami suggested removing the request to authorize the road. "This is a very sensitive issue from the Palestinian point of view, especially if these lands are indeed privately owned,” Avrahami explained.

In response to a question by committee chairman Uri Maklev regarding whether or not the military paved the road, Hindi responded by saying that it was the Ministry of Housing and Construction. “Someone violated the law,” Hindi stated.

“So why did the Ministry of Housing and Construction actually pave the road?”Maklev asked.

“Pressure,”Hindi responded. Someone took the asphalt, laid it there and checked the alertness of the policethis does not meet the minimal transportation-security criteria. Whoever paved the road bears responsibilitymy personal recommendation is that the person who paved the road ought to remove the asphalt before he is subject to a lawsuit.”

Col. Shaul Arieli, a member of the Council for Peace and Security, said in response, “All this lawlessness is in the name of saving 5-10 minutes of driving until the Ofer Prison, where the residents can turn around legally.”

Dror Etkes, an expert on West Bank settlements, said that the road from Agan Ha’ayalot toward Route 443 was paved at the end of the 1990s over private lands belonging to the residents of the village of Beitunia, which lies outside thelegal jurisdiction of Givat Ze’ev.

The IDF Spokesperson issued a response on the issue, saying that the discussion was“held in the Knesset by professionals - a commander was present to give his professional opinion.”

The Spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing and Construction, Ariel Rosenberg, said that the ministry carries out development projects according to approved plans alone.

“We did not pave the road, and are unaware of any illegal paving. Security sources rebuilt the opening in response to the request of the council. Our ministry completed the guard tower and the electric fence. The council’s request for a left turn on Route 443 in the direction of Beit Horon is logical and is supported by the ministry, but is still in the process of being arranged by planning officials."

During the same Knesset meeting, Chairman of the Givat Ze’ev Local Council Yossi Avrahami admitted that he placed caravans in the neighborhood without a permit, and allowed for people to move to the neighborhood “beyond the letter of the law” –that is, before all the infrastructural work and public buildings were completed, as is customary in local councils. “I just did the residents a favor when I told them they could move in.”

Avrahami said that he allowed the families to move into the caravans before the infrastructure was developed in order to present an immediate solution for the families. “I agreed to put a number of caravans in the area that would serve temporarily as an area for selling necessary food items for the neighborhood which is far from the center of the town. This was done legally and with the proper permits. The caravans will be removed once the commercial center will be completed in the area."

Daniel Bar-On/Jini