Israeli Official Declares Plot State Land, Then Turns It Into Illegal Outpost

The land hosts a farm and a guesthouse whose profits go to a company established by the official, who has since left his government job

The illegal West Bank outpost of Tzurei Ye’elim.
Emile Salman

An employee of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank declared a certain plot of land state land and then, after leaving his job, set up an illegal outpost on it.

The outpost, located in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, now contains a farm and a guesthouse. The profits of these enterprises go to a company established by the former Civil Administration employee, Yossi Levitt.

The outpost, Tzurei Ye’elim, was built entirely without permits. A demolition order was issued against one of its buildings but was never executed.

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The farm consists of several buildings spread out over 250 dunams (62 acres) and surrounded by 17,000 dunams of pastureland. Levitt and his partner, Moshe Ronen, also planted an olive orchard and vineyards, started a herd of sheep and built rooms for hosting workshops.

The Civil Administration declared this land state land on November 24, 2013, and the outpost was established in 2014. Aerial photographs obtained by the group Kerem Navot show that Levitt began building the outpost immediately after he resigned from the Civil Administration.

Determining which land in the West Bank can be declared state land is one of the Civil Administration’s main jobs. First, it carries out surveys to find land that isn’t being worked. Then, if it can prove through aerial photography that the land has lain fallow for many years, it can declare the site state land.

In the case of Tzurei Ye’elim, Levitt was the Civil Administration inspector responsible for declaring the site state land. He is listed as such in Civil Administration records, and a Civil Administration planning official also confirmed this to Haaretz. The official stressed that Levitt no longer works for the agency.

Even though the outpost is illegal, it could potentially be legalized because it’s located on state land, the official noted.

Moreover, he said, since the outpost is within the jurisdiction of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, the Civil Administration has no power to demolish it. Only the regional council can do that, and it supports the outpost. It even solicits donations for Tzurei Ye’elim on its website.

“Yossi Levitt is a product of the corrupt symbiosis between large portions of the Civil Administration and the settlers,” said Dror Etkes of Kerem Navot. “This symbiosis shows how deep the rot runs in this agency, which pretends to be professional when in fact it’s a violent agency that Israel uses to take control of Palestinian lands in the West Bank.”

Levitt declined to comment, as did the Civil Administration.

A source familiar with the case said plans to declare the site state land date back from before Levitt joined the Civil Administration. But he confirmed that Levitt actually signed the declaration.