West Bank Regional Council Built Illegal Racetrack With Public Israeli Funds

Authorities do not intend to enforce the building laws by demolishing the track, since it may still be legalized in the future

The illegal race-car track near the settlement of Petza’el in the West Bank, November 2018
Gil Cohen-Magen

A regional council comprising several West Bank settlements used public funds to build an illegal race-car track.

The Aravot Hayarden Regional Council’s budget, which was made public thanks to a Freedom of Information request, shows that through the end of 2017, the council had spent 284,000 shekels ($76,000) to build the track near the settlement of Petza’el. Since its 2018 budget hasn’t been made public, it’s not clear whether the council spent additional money on the project this year. But budgets from earlier years show that the total allocation was eventually slated to exceed half a million shekels.

The documents also show that the Interior Ministry approved a grant of more than 4 million shekels for construction of the illegal racetrack. The ministry said that though the funding was approved, it hasn’t yet been transferred, and won’t be unless the project obtains a retroactive building permit. But it thereby effectively admitted that it budgeted money for a project that hadn’t yet received legal approval.

The illegal race-car track near the settlement of Petza’el in the West Bank, November 2018
Gil Cohen-Magen

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The racetrack is a private enterprise and is currently in commercial operation. But the regional council provided financial support, submitted a plan to retroactively legalize use of the land and has sought to build a hotel there as well.

Council Chairman David Elhayani did not respond to Haaretz’s requests for comment.

The plan passed the first stage of the legal approval process in February, but that is not sufficient to allow legal construction. Nevertheless, as far as is known, the authorities do not intend to enforce the building laws by demolishing the track, since it may still be legalized in the future.

The track, which was built over the past two years, has received coverage in various automobile and sporting magazines. Drivers can enter races there for a fee; the entrance fee for this week’s race, for instance, is 300 shekels. Driving lessons are also offered, and there are tracks for go-karts and motorcycles as well as cars.

The Freedom of Information request was filed by Peace Now and the Movement for Freedom of Information.

“In recent years, the Jordan Valley has become the Wild West of the territories, and the regional council, which is supposed to be the sovereign that enforces the law, appears to be a full partner in the law-breaking,” said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch project. She added that it is only one of several West Bank regional councils “that allocate public funds to illegal activity and creating facts on the ground that are meant to distance Israel from any chance of a two-state solution.”

Or Sadan, the Movement for Freedom of Information’s legal advisor, said he had asked the council for information about its outside contracts almost a year ago but still hadn’t received an answer. “That’s an unreasonable amount of time in which information of great public importance is effectively being concealed from the public,” he said.

He added that local governments ought to publish their contracts with outside suppliers of their own accord, “so the public will know what’s being done with its money.”

The Interior Ministry said it gave preliminary approval to a grant of 4.145 million shekels for the racetrack last year. “Despite this approval in principle, no money at all has yet been released to the council for this,” it added. “It was made clear that the fund transfer was conditional on submission of a building permit as required by law.”