Top Court Orders Israel to Explain Failure to Investigate Illegal Construction in West Bank Settlement

Court issues order after petition by Peace Now demanding enforcement of rules forbidding construction in West Bank without permit or master plan

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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The settlement of Eli, February 2020.
The settlement of Eli, February 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

The High Court of Justice issued an order Monday giving the state two months to explain why it is not opening a criminal investigation into unauthorized construction undertaken in the outpost of Hayovel, which is within the boundaries of the northern West Bank Jewish settlement of Eli.

The outpost, which at times has been described as a neighborhood of Eli, was established in 1998 and is home to about 40 families. In 2016, new construction work was begun there consisting of 14 buildings, including 20 residential units. The work was undertaken without building permits and in the absence of a valid master city plan.

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The anti-settlement group Peace Now approached the State Prosecutor’s Office and other enforcement agencies demanding enforcement of the building codes. Peace Now received a variety of responses, but no investigation has been opened.

In 2018, Peace Now filed a petition with the High Court of Justice over the construction, which has been halted since. The petition demands that demolition orders or stop-work orders be issued. The petition is also seeking a criminal investigation against the regional government in the area – the Mateh Binyamin regional council – and against A.C. Calfon, a construction company that had been hired to do the work.

Monday’s High Court show-cause order requiring that the state explain the failure to launch an investigation was issued in response to the Peace Now petition. Peace Now included the regional council in its petition after the group said it had become clear, following a Freedom of Information Act request, that it was the council that had hired the construction company to perform the work at the outpost, at a cost of more than 850,000 shekels ($243,000).

“[The regional council] is not only aware of the construction in question. It is even involved in funding it and is certainly not acting to enforce the law and halt the construction,” the Peace Now petition alleges.

The chairman of the Eli settlement, Ariel Elmaliach, said in response that the construction in Hayovel was carried out on “legal land” that an official survey has confirmed as state-owned land. “This land has for years been declared as state land as part of a survey that was carried out. …Unfortunately, we waited for years for a general court decision on the community of Eli, and about three months ago the court confirmed the legality of the state land in the entire community. By virtue of that, after 36 years, a first master plan has been approved for our community, which already has more than 1,000 families.”

The statement goes on to say that the master plan will now pave the way for the approval of other plans, including a plan very shortly for Hayovel, “all of the homes of which are on state land and were built in accordance with legal and normal criteria.”

This was not the first petition filed by Peace Now in connection with construction at Hayovel. In 2005, the organization filed a petition seeking enforcement of a demolition order against buildings on so-called survey land, the ownership of which was not yet clear, in addition to state land and privately owned Palestinian land. Ultimately the state decided to provide approval for the construction on the state land and survey land, but it never formally did so.

After the earlier petition was filed, the state demolished one building, which had been built on land owned by Palestinians, as well as portions of a road leading to the outpost, which had been built on survey land and privately owned Palestinian land.

In response to Monday’s High Court order, Peace Now said: “The court is sending a clear message to law enforcement authorities today that there is no longer a basis for the many years of immunity that the state has granted to the heads of the settlement movement, who have done in the settlements whatever they have felt like, in violation of the law, and all of this to create facts on the ground that affect the future of all of Israel. We hope that the message is heard and that they finally a stop is put to the lawlessness in the settlements and outposts.”

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