Israeli Government-funded Council Spent Millions on Illegal Settlements

Documents show Mateh Binyamin Regional Council money went to infrastructure at small, wildcat settler outposts

The illegal outpost near Alonei Shiloh in the West Bank, June 27, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Mateh Binyamin Regional Council spent millions of shekels to build infrastructure in wildcat outposts in the West Bank from 2013 to 2015. Documents from the regional council are part of the correspondence with contractors building the infrastructure, roads and buildings at the outposts.

Among the outposts that received the funding, hundreds of thousands of shekels for each project, are Esh Kodesh, Givat Harel, Kerem Re’im and even Amona, which was later evacuated by court order because it was built on privately owned Palestinian land.

The Mateh Binyamin Regional Council confirmed it had provided funding for these communities. Council head Avi Roeh told Haaretz that the council is obligated to pay for anything related to educational institutions, including preschools, playgrounds for children and safety. “We did it. We also notified the Education Ministry,” said Roeh.

The government has said in principle that “every community located on state land, and this is true for these places such as Kida, Adi Ad, Esh Kodesh, etc., we intend on legalizing them. It is taking its time and in the meantime there are children and families there,” said Roeh. The State Comptroller’s Office asked the regional council about the matter recently and the council provided the same response, he added.

The data was received as part of a Freedom of Information request filed with the regional council by Peace Now.

According to the data, over the three-year period, 6.46 million shekels ($1.9 million) were spent by the regional council on the projects for the unauthorized outposts under the council’s responsibility. Most of the outposts are located on state land, though they usually do not have building permits or other government approval.

Some of the money was spent on illegal construction in relatively large settlements such as Eli, but out of the 24 projects, about 10 were located in isolated outposts that are completely unapproved.

For example, 264,000 shekels was spent temporary structures at Esh Kodesh, 142,000 shekels on a youth club at Givat Harel, 217,000 shekels on an access road to Kerem Re’im, 499,000 shekels on an access road to Givat Harel, 149,000 sheekls on paving an intersection for Yishuv Hada’at and 165,000 shekels for paving a road to Amona.

In addition, 303,000 shekels went for a preschool at Esh Kodesh, 217,000 shekels for a preschool at Ahiya, 141,000 shekels for a project that is not clear what it was for at Adei Ad and 140,000 for “infrastructure development” at Givat Harel.

The funds involved from the regional council do not only come from the taxpayers living within the territory of the council. Regional councils, including those in the West Bank, receive hundreds of millions of shekels in funding directly from the government. For example, the Mateh Binyamin council received a 50 million shekel grant from the Interior Ministry, as part of the most recent annual allocation of government funding to municipalities. Councils in the West Bank receive other government funding too, for example for security. In late December, 40 million shekels of such grants was distributed to West Bank councils.

“The Mateh Binyamin Regional Council is supposed to be the one to enforce the law and act according to it,” said Shabtay Bendet, the head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch project. “Not only does it not enforce [the law], it funds and promotes illegal projects with our public funds. No police investigation has been opened on the matter. We call on the legal authorities to open an investigation,” he added.