Israeli Watchdog: Over 70 Percent of West Bank Construction Violations Go Unaddressed

State comptroller says Civil Administration's failure to monitor and enforce construction rules in Palestinian areas and settlements is 'a major blow to the rule of law.'

A building in the West Bank settlement of Beit El that was slated for demolition, in 2015.
Emil Salman

Israel's Civil Administration demolished only 14 percent of the 9,300 structures in the West Bank in which building violations were detected between 2008 and 2013, according to a new report by the state comptroller.

The office of State Comptroller Joseph Shapira looked into how construction violations are monitored and handled, and discovered problems related to supervision at the Civil Administration – the Israeli governing body that operates in the West Bank – and in its databases related to home demolitions.

No clear criteria have been drawn up with respect to certain areas of supervision and enforcement at the administration, the watchdog wrote in the report, published Monday. Its supervisory unit does not have any annual work plan, nor can anyone tell from its annual reports what its activities have been, he noted.

The main problem is that nothing whatsoever is done about most building violations, which constitutes a major blow to the rule of law and to the principle of equality before the law, not to mention law enforcement in the West Bank in general, Shapira wrote.

Altogether, from 1997 to 2013, there were 13,481 cases of building violations in the Palestinian locales and 6,604 in Jewish communities, of which 28 percent and 27 percent of the structures in question were demolished, respectively.

In December 2013, the defense minister set forth directives and priorities for foiling illegal construction – first and foremost in illegal settlements and on private land. By March 2014, there were 224 cases of Jewish buildings constructed on private property that were not demolished.

The report also shows that the Civil Administration fails to enforce construction-related regulations in either the Palestinian or Jewish locales that fall within the framework of approved master plans, or to monitor the conduct of settlements in this context.

In response, the Civil Administration says it only intervenes in extreme cases, and does not mete out punishment in cases of violations in locales that have no master plan, but were established on the basis of "government priorities.”

In 2012, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced the establishment of a mechanism to enforce planning and building laws. Such a system does exist for Israel proper, but does not extend to the territories.

An investigation by the state comptroller revealed that administrative work toward this aim has barely progressed, leading the defense minister to urge the prime minister to personally ensure money was budgeted for this purpose.