The Arad municipality is accusing Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of attempting to obstruct its efforts to enforce property laws forbidding the use of cooking gas canisters. Litzman has asked the attorney general to halt the legal proceedings against local residents who are connecting them — many of whom, like Litzman himself, are Ger Hasidim.
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Arad officials, in a letter to the real estate department in the State Prosecutor’s Office, said Litzman’s conduct should be examined by the state comptroller so that the latter can give his opinion on “this blatant and unprecedented intervention.”
Many of the residents who’ve been taken to court by the city over these illegal gas connections are Ger Hasidim who view Litzman as their parliamentary representative. Litzman, in his letter to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, claimed the law is being enforced against ultra-Orthodox residents in a discriminatory fashion, an allegation the city denies.
Litzman also claimed that no city enforces laws against connecting gas canisters, citing Dimona, the older sections of Tel Aviv, Holon, Bat Yam and Katzrin. Arad legal adviser Haim Shiman, however, noted that unlike in the cities Litzman cites, Arad was built from the start with underground central gas infrastructure that can pipe gas to all the buildings. As a result, a special regulation in Arad states that no building with more than six apartments can have gas canister connections, but must be connected to the central gas supply.
As for the claim that the city only enforces the law against Haredim, Shiman said that the local planning and building committee has also dealt with cases of secular residents connecting gas canisters illegally. However, he conceded that the phenomenon was more widespread among Haredi residents, “who are making law for themselves, and without a permit have been independently connecting gas canisters to their apartments in residential buildings with more than six apartments.”
The canisters are connected by Hura Gas, based in the Bedouin town of Hura, only a few kilometers from Arad. According to a Ger Hasidic source, families are connecting the canisters because the central gas is far more expensive, costing up to 4.5 times more than the gas in canisters. “A kollel couple with no children will pay 200 shekels [$52] on every gas bill if they’re connected to central gas,” the source said.
Over the past few months, two cases brought against Arad residents with illegal gas connections reached the Be’er Sheva District Court, and two judges came to two different conclusions, with one resident acquitted of charges that he’d violated building and planning laws while the other was convicted. As a result, the State Prosecutor’s Office real estate department submitted a request to appeal the acquittal to the Supreme Court.
That’s why Litzman, on March 3, wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit demanding that he “stop dealing with this issue.” He added, “To appeal this ruling means that the attorney general identifies with this racist discrimination that applies only in Arad and only against Haredim.” It should be noted that the magistrate’s court that had earlier convicted this resident (his conviction was overturned on appeal) dismissed the claim of selective enforcement, while the district court didn’t address it since it didn’t see a violation in the first place.
This is not the first time Litzman has intervened in local affairs in Arad, where some 6,000 Ger Hasidim live. Every since Nissan Ben Hamo, a representative of Yesh Atid, was elected mayor last year, the tensions between the Haredim and the municipality have soared. In a visit to Arad with Education Minister Naftali Bennett last month, Litzman complained about “constantly having to come to put out fires,” and demanded that Ben Hamo allocate land for synagogues and funding for Haredi schools.
Litzman’s office responded, “The minister’s letter to the attorney general came in response to the continuing municipal harassment of residents despite court rulings in their favor.”