The WZO Settlement Division transferred public funds as loans to at least two settlers from the West Bank settlement of Itamar, documents obtained by Haaretz show. In exchange for the loans the settlers mortgaged plots that had been allocated to them in Itamar.
However, Civil Administration maps show that the ostensibly mortgaged plots simply don’t exist. A defense official familiar with the plans confirmed that the plots are non-existent. The division denied one case and did not comment on the other.
The Settlement Division is a private body that acts under the World Zionist Organization, but is wholly financed by Israeli public funds. It acts as a government agent in assigning land to Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
In August 2012 the couple received a loan from the Settlement Division, in exchange for mortgaging plot 405 in Itamar. Under the mortgage agreement, the couple mortgaged “contractual and other property rights…to the debtors, the property owners, including future rights, and any money paid to the property: damages, insurance fees, rent, as detailed in the agreement.”
But there is no plot 405, according to the area maps. This means the couple received a loan from public funds for mortgaging a non-existent plot.
The couple lives in the Itamar region, on hill called Meshek Alumot, where they operate a dairy and hatchery and sell cheeses, yogurt and eggs. The hill is an illegal outpost and the Civil Administration issued demolition orders for it, but they have never been implemented.
The husband's brother was in the headlines some time ago after he reportedly built an illegal runway on the hill.
The administration’s maps show that most of the outpost structures were been built on state-run land, against the law, except for a few located in an area that isn’t under Israeli administration at all. The husband did not respond to Haaretz’s queries.
Haaretz has obtained documents showing that the division has practiced this method for setting up illegal outposts before. In 2011 a couple received a loan from the division in exchange for mortgaging plot 403 in Itamar, to purchase some 100 sheep. In 2012 they mortgaged the same plot again, with the addition of 50 sheep. In 2014 they bought 10 cows and mortgaged plot 403 again. No such plot currently exists today in Civil Administration maps.
The defense official confirmed this incident as well. However, it may be assumed that the couple in fact mortgaged plot 440, whose area is equal to what is marked as plot 403 in a previous map. But if the couple mortgaged plot 440, then they did not build the sheep pen they allegedly built with the loan, as the plot, on the outskirts of Itamar, is empty. The illegal outpost on which the well-known farm was built is located at a more remote location.
The husband did not respond to Haaretz’ queries. But an official who knows the individuals involved told Haaretz “these methods are ancient. The practice was stopped 20 years ago.”
The incident was discovered as part of a study conducted by the leftist NGO Kerem Navot. “This story exposes again the Settlement Division’s swindling ways and dirty dealings,” Kerem Navot said. He noted that it was similar to the case of Smotrich, “who received a mortgage in the Kedumim settlement for a plot that doesn’t exist. It’s obvious from that and from the other cases that this is only the tip of the iceberg of a much broader practice.”
The NGO was referring to a story Haaretz published, which exposed a similar method on the division’s part in Kedumim. Bezalel Smotrich, who was later to become an MK, had been allocated a plot on which he did not build anything. Smotrich mortgaged the empty plot and built a house in another place, against the law and outside the settlement’s borders.
The Settlement Division claimed that the plot the second couple had mortgaged exists, but admitted nothing had been built on it. The division said “plot 403 (that the husband mortgaged) appears in the settlement’s master plan and is within Itamar’s borders, on an area that isn’t currently built. The plot was allocated to the family. The claim that we mortgaged a fictitious property is wrong because the plot is a guarantee to the loan and if it is not repaid the plot will be seized. In any case putting a lien on the plot renders it exclusive to those who have rights on it and no use can be made of it by anyone but them or with their agreement.”
The division’s spokesman noted in previous correspondence that the loan was not granted to build an illegal outpost and “as far as we know he has a seasonal contract for grazing in areas located within Itamar’s borders.” No response was given regarding plot 405, which was mortgaged by the other couple.
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