IDF to Probe Illegal Transfer of Pricey West Bank Land to Settler Body

Handover made against explicit order from head of army Central Command.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Gershon Mesika (L), head of the Samaria Development Company, in court.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, head of the army’s Central Command, has appointed an officer to investigate how the Civil Administration in the West Bank gave lands worth millions of shekels to the Samaria Development Company, despite his explicit order not to do so.

The 2,400 dunams, which are slated to become an industrial park, are just across the Green Line from Rosh Ha’ayin. The combination of its location in the West Bank, which enables companies to employ cheap Palestinian labor, and its proximity to central Israel makes the site very attractive.

The industrial park’s establishment has been delayed for years by a three-way dispute between the Samaria Regional Council and the settlements Elkana and Oranit over control of the lucrative property. Whichever locality controls it will get tens of millions of shekels in development fees and municipal taxes.

Eventually, Oranit and the Samaria Regional Council decided to split control of the site evenly while excluding Elkana – a decision to which Elkana vehemently objected. But because jurisdiction over land in the West Bank is formally assigned by the head of Central Command, the decision needed Alon’s approval.

In November, he met with the heads of all three local authorities and told them he had no intention of getting involved in the dispute; they had to settle it among themselves. And in the minutes of the meeting which were then sent to the Civil Administration, Alon’s aide wrote, “Until the negotiations are completed, [Alon] ordered that all progress in the plans on the ground be halted in order not to create irreversible facts prior to his final decision on the matter.”

Nevertheless, in December, it became clear that someone in the Custodian’s Office of the Civil Administration had signed documents transferring responsibility for planning the land to the Samaria Development Company. Essentially, this means land worth millions of shekels was allocated without a tender, and behind Alon’s back.

The company is jointly owned by the Samaria Regional Council and the settlements under its jurisdiction. It is headed by Gershon Mesika, who is also chairman of the Samaria Regional Council and a Likud party activist.

Currently, the company is embroiled in a major fraud investigation that led to both Mesika and the company’s former director general, Haim Ben-Shushan, being arrested and interrogated on suspicion of bribing Yisrael Beiteinu MK Faina Kirshenbaum. In exchange, she was supposed to get the company’s debts to the government erased.

Alon discovered the land allocation by chance and decided to appoint Col. Uri Mendes to investigate how it happened. The investigation is still in progress, but Haaretz has learned that Defense Ministry officials were apparently involved in the allocation. Yesterday, Elkana Mayor Asaf Mintzer sent a letter to all the settlement’s residents welcoming Alon’s decision to cancel the land allocation.

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