The World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division charges 20 percent to 30 percent less for rent on the buildings it owns in the West Bank settlements compared to its buildings in other places it operates. Haaretz obtained data from the Settlement Division based on a Freedom of Information request showing the cheapest place to rent mobile homes from the Settlement Division is in the West Bank.
For example, in the Jordan Valley, Megilot regional council near the northern Dead Sea, Binyamin, the Hebron Hills and Etzion Bloc regions – all in the West Bank – the cost per square meter is 10.47 shekels ($2.90). In comparison, the Settlement Division charges 13.08 shekels per square meter in the Lower and Western Galilee, Lachish and Western Negev regions; while in the Golan Heights, Southern Negev, Arava and Upper Galilee it charges 12.62 shekels per square meter.
The Settlement Division is officially a unit of the WZO, but in practice its entire budget comes from the government. Its operations were halted in the past by Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, and the division was forced to begin following the rules of the “Tenders Law,” which requires competitive bidding for almost all of its contracts. The Settlement Division renewed its operations at the end of 2016 after the government approved a new agreement with it.
Fifty percent of the revenues from renting the buildings is transferred to the Housing and Construction Ministry and the other 50 percent is used by the Settlement Division for maintenance and the division’s management costs.
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The Freedom of Information Law request was filed by the Movement for Freedom of Information and Peace Now. Nirit Blair, a lawyer who is the executive director of the movement, said the data raise question marks about the Settlement Division’s priorities. The request for the information was filed after they learned from the Settlement Division’s website that it had hundreds of such prefabricated homes, she added. But to its credit, the division implements the Freedom of Information Law, said Blair.
The data shows that 37 percent of the mobile homes owned by the division are located in the West Bank, even though it is also responsible for development of the Negev and Galilee. In total, the division manages 2,503 such buildings, 925 of which are in the West Bank.
Peace Now says that aerial photographs show that some of these structures were placed illegally. According to the Settlement Division figures, 41 of these temporary units are in the settlement of Itamar in the northern West Bank, but only 20 of them are within the area of the settlement legally authorized for such construction. A similar situation exists in the settlement of Mitzpe Yericho near Jericho.
The Settlement Division said about the rents it charges that it does not set the rent or usage fees. “They are determined by the Construction and Housing Ministry’s rates committee and the division has no influence on them.”
As for the number of such units located in the West Bank compared to elsewhere, the Settlement Division said “such a comparison is out of place. The division began its activities in the Negev and Galilee only in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Until then, [the division] only operated in the areas of Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip region. Therefore, a large number of the temporary structures that the [division’s] residency unit manages today are in communities in Judea and Samaria.”
The division said it puts units in unauthorized places after getting needed permits.