West Bank Settler Leader Lives in Unauthorized Outpost

Shlomo Ne'eman, head of Gush Etzion Regional Council, lives in Tzur Shalem, which the regional council treats as a neighborhood of a neighboring settlement

The West Bank settlement of Karmei Tzur, built near Tzur Shalem.
Emil Salman

Shlomo Ne’eman, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, lives in an unauthorized outpost in the West Bank. The outpost, Tzur Shalem, near the settlement of Karmei Tzur in southern Gush Etzion, lies entirely outside the present municipal borders of Karmei Tzur, even though the regional council considers it to be a neighborhood of the nearby settlement.

Maps from the IDF’s Civil Administration in the West Bank show the houses in Tzur Shalem were all built without an approved master plan – and as a result could not have been issued building permits for their construction.

The Civil Administration has issued demolition orders for the structures in the outpost, including Ne’eman’s home. According to the regional council’s website, 14 families live in Tzur Shalem.

The outpost was established in memory of Dr. Shmuel Gillis, a senior hematologist at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, who was murdered on his way home from the hospital to Karmei Tzur in 2001 by Palestinian terrorists near the Aroub refugee camp on the main Jerusalem-Hebron road.

Aerial photographs of the outpost show the first buildings went up around 2002, with 15 structures. An aerial photograph from 2016 shows 15 buildings, but the minimal structures from 2002 have been replaced by larger ones. A visit to the outpost showed that most of the buildings today are rather large, permanent structures.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, left, embraces Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, at illegal outpost Netiv Ha’avot in Gush Etzion.
Emil Salman

The outpost does not have a paved access road, but a tractor is now carrying out infrastructure work. Recently a new hydrant for fighting fires was installed in the unauthorized outpost.

Ne’eman has been council head since February when he won an election called after his predecessor, David Perl, resigned because of his alleged involvement in a sexual harassment scandal. A number of sources in the council and among area residents confirmed Ne’eman lives in the unauthorized outpost. They described him as a hard-line right-winger and is identified with Jewish Temple Mount organizations.

Ne’eman is a member of Likud, and is considered to be close to Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin. In the past, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel from the Habayit Hayehudi party supported Ne’eman, when he ran for council head.

Outpost expands

Aerial photographs from the Civil Administration obtained by the non-profit organization Kerem Navot also show the outpost has expanded over the years. For example, about a year after its founding, a section with six mobile homes was built in the direction of Karmei Tzur, and in 2012 a few more mobile homes were placed there. According to the aerial photographs, the construction of more permanent buildings began there around 2010.

Kerem Navot, which describes itself on its website as an organization addressing "the ongoing dispossession of land in the West Bank," told Haaretz: "Shlomo Ne'eman may have not grown up in Israel, but it is clear that he acclimated to the local political climate in which anyone who is listed as Jewish on his identity card is allowed to take control of land. In the process, Ne'eman has joined the list of elected officials and politicos among the settlers who are not only assisting others in stealing land, but are also doing it themselves."

Ne’eman is one of a number of senior officials who live in illegal homes in the West Bank. For example, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) lives in an unauthorized home in Kedumim; and Avi Cohen, the attorney who heads the Finance Ministry unit that enforces planning and construction laws, lives in the unauthorized outpost of Palgei Mayim near Eli.

The Gush Etzion Regional Council said the Tzur Shalem neighborhood was built right next to the community of Karmei Tzur after the murder of Gillis and in his memory. The neighborhood is located on “survey land” [land that is appropriate for being declared state land], but Israel has yet to do so for the past 20 years. In other words, for years the government has not completed the legal arrangements for the land.

Fourteen years ago, after terrorists penetrated the neighborhood and murdered three people, a reserve soldier and a nine-month pregnant woman and her husband, the Ne’eman family moved to Tzur Shalem and later built their house there, said the regional council.

“The situation of the neighborhood testifies as 100 witnesses to the discriminatory attitude of the government authorities to the residents of Judea and Samaria,” said the council. Dozens of communities in Judea and Samaria and tens of thousands of government land are waiting their turn to be legally recognized, which leaves the residents in an artificial situation of allegedly “violating the law.”