Editorial |

Illegal Building Is Contempt for Human Life

Haaretz Editorial
Construction in the Israeli settlement of Rahalim, located near the village of Yatma, south of Nablus in the West Bank, in October 2021.
Construction in the Israeli settlement of Rahalim, located near the village of Yatma, south of Nablus in the West Bank, in October 2021.Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP
Haaretz Editorial

The tragedy this week in the ecological village of Adama – the death in a fire of 3-year-old Libby Kalich, during a family Passover vacation there – requires a serious shake-up of the institutional handling of illegal construction and a public discussion about its dangers.

A criminal culture of illegal construction has taken root in Israel over the course of many years. There is a regular method to it: First build, creating facts on the ground, only afterward turning to the zoning boards, the appeals committees and the courts. If necessary, obtain supportive statements from politicians arguing that it was all done in good faith, that demolition would cause great harm and that settling the land is very important – whether for nationalist reasons or, as in this case, for “ecological” ones.

Adama is situated on land in the Galilee that is zoned for forestation. Since the 1990s, about 30 families have settled there and built dozens of buildings without permits. These buildings are not connected to the electricity, water or sewage systems. The tragedy that occurred there this week is an important reminder that construction permits are not merely a bureaucratic matter. They are important because they are issued only after the building’s safety, escape routes and infrastructure have been scrutinized. People who take the law into their own hands and build without permits demonstrate contempt not only for the law, but also for human life.

The state has a tendency to look the other way when the problem is small or doesn’t affect the Israeli mainstream, and to take action only when there’s a disaster.

But there’s no difference between people who build homes without permits in the Negev, or in illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, and people who build them under what they deem to be the enlightened banner of an “ecological village” on land zoned for forestation, while riding roughshod over the law and appropriating open areas meant to benefit the general public. A tragedy like the one that occurred in Adama could also happen in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, in Arab villages, in family farms, in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim and in West Bank settlements.

Back in 2018, the state sought demolition orders against Adama. Judge Jenny Tannous even visited the village the following year. But since then, more than two years have passed, and she still hasn’t issued a ruling. This is solely because empathy for construction crimes remains widespread.

Every additional day that people exhaust the system and delay the ruling is net profit for construction offenders. They are rewarded by a law enforcement system that is slow, forgiving and turns a blind eye.

To eradicate this criminal culture, the state must step up enforcement and stiffen the penalties for construction criminals. At the same time, action must be taken to regulate illegal building in Arab communities that stems from years of institutional neglect.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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