West Bank Home of Israeli Lawmaker Who Championed Land-grab Law Built Illegally

Haaretz has learned that a number of houses in settlement of Kedumim, including Bezalel Smotrich’s, were built illegally, outside declared state lands and in breach of settlement’s master plan.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), November 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

The house in which MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) lives in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim was built illegally and might be on private Palestinian land, Haaretz has learned.

Smotrich spearheaded legislation to legalize settlement homes built illegally on private Palestinian land.

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Smotrich, who is also deputy speaker of Israel's Knesset, lives on Ish Yeminkha Street, in the Rashi Hill section of the veteran northern West Bank settlement, which is lined with pretty one-story stone houses. Haaretz has learned that a number of houses on this street, including Smotrich’s, were built illegally, outside the declared state lands and in breach of the settlement’s master plan.

In 2012, Civil Administration personnel mapped the area. The purpose of the mapping project was to precisely pinpoint state lands as opposed to privately owned land, so the state could realize its rights on the lands it owns, while the private lands would remain in private hands.

Was MK Bezalel Smotrich's house in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim built on private Palestinian land?
Olivier Fitoussi

In their work at Kedumim, the team mapped a prominent enclave in the heart of the settlement on land that had not been declared state land. This is where Smotrich’s house is.

Historically, in the West Bank, people purchased rights to land by cultivating it. Aerial photographs in the 1970s, the 1990s and the early 2000s show that as opposed to non-arable, rocky land that was declared state land, the land on which the buildings in question were built was cultivated. Aerial photos show trees in the area until 2002. In 2004, construction seems to have started there.

“I remember there was land that used to belong to the village,” Saker Subhi Obad, the former mayor of the Palestinian town of Kadum, near Kedumim, told Haaretz: “In my opinion, the owner of this land was not in the country; that is, if he had been in the country, he would have gone to court. Apparently none of the landowners were in the village.”

Obad said he had spoken with representatives of the human rights group Yesh Din, who he said told him that they had maps that could show him where the land was.

MK Smotrich was among the leaders in pushing for the law, officially named the “regularization law,” that passed last month and allows Israel to expropriate private Palestinian land, by coming to a retroactive “arrangement” regarding buildings built on private land.

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The law also names 16 settlements in which “all the enforcement processes and existing administrative orders in a period of 12 months from the day the law was published” would be suspended. Kedumim is on this list.

If Smotrich’s house was built on private land, the new law will allow it to be retroactively legalized.

“Out of the thousands of hours that the energetic MK Smotrich invested in the issue of land in the West Bank, he poured out endless words – but he didn’t have the chance to talk about just one thing: the status of his own house,” left-wing activist Dror Etkes of the NGO Kerem Navot, who researches Israeli policy in the West Bank, told Haaretz.

“It would be more respectable if Smotrich would also have let the public know about the personal considerations behind his strong desire to legitimize the project of stealing private Palestinian land in the West Bank,” Etkes added.

Smotrich’s bureau responded: “Things were done as required. The only people who are in a conflict of interest are journalists who try to represent the Palestinians to evacuate Jews from their homes, but in this case of self-hatred, no regularization law will help. As I have done up to now, I will continue to do – I will do all I can to protect settlement and continue to develop it as a direct continuation of the Zionist vision.”