The Real Organized Crime

The state authorities, the Civil Administration and local council heads are turning a blind eye to daylight robbery - theft of land under state control.

With full panoply, the government on Sunday appointed Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to head a new team that will formulate a policy for fighting serious organized crime. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it was reported, said at the government meeting that "it is necessary to relate to the war against crime and violence as a war on terror." No less. He promised that the new plan for the war on serious crime will make it possible to amplify the fight against organized crime and reinforce cooperation among the law-enforcement authorities.

Following is an up-to-date collection of some of the most organized criminal acts in the country, or more precisely - in territories under its control. In all of these affairs, the state authorities, the Civil Administration and the heads of local councils are turning a blind eye to daylight robbery.

At the High Court of Justice deliberations are underway on petitions submitted by Peace Now concerning a number of illegal outposts - Emunah, Harsha and Hayovel. In its reply to the petitions, the state has admitted that not only are these outposts illegal, but also that all of them or some of them have been established on private land belonging to the Palestinian neighbors. These outposts could not have been established without help from the authorities, whether in funding for infrastructures by the local councils or by the authorities responsible for planning and supervising construction in the Civil Administration turning a blind eye. According to the Sasson report, the Housing and Construction Ministry funded the establishment of infrastructures at Emunah to the tune of NIS 2.1 million, without authorization from the government or the defense minister for its erection, without any government or public body having allocated land for it and without planning status.

If the attorney general were to rummage through the Civil Administration files, he would find hundreds of work stoppage orders and hundreds of demolition orders for illegal structures at the outposts. What is common to all of these orders is that the defense minister does not approve their implementation. And how does the Civil Administration brush off nuisances like Peace Now that try to protect the rights of Abdullah, the person whose land has overnight become an outpost (to exemplify the gravity of the crime, it is recommended to imagine that his name is Menachem and the stolen land is located in the heart of Tel Aviv)? For this the State Prosecutor's Office has invented the term "security considerations." Experience teaches that usually the courts, among them the High Court of Justice, cannot resist these magic words.

The Emunah petition to the High Court of Justice is one of the rare instances in which the court has decided to put the "security considerations" to the test. This was after the State Prosecutor's Office stated that the defense minister had ordered the demolition of the nine permanent structures, which had been erected without a permit, at the outpost next to Ofra, no later than the end of January, 2006. And as always, a reservation was added to the statement: The demolition of the buildings would be carried out "unless the security situation does not permit this." Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia accepted the request of attorney Michael Sfard, who represents the petitioners, to subject Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's security considerations to judicial review. On her orders he is required to set out for her in detail by Thursday the "security situation," including preparations for evacuation.

And after all this, a senior source at the Civil Administration is prepared to wager that no outpost will be moved until the elections. A clue to the connection between crime and politics can be found in the state's response to the Peace Now petition in the matter of the illegal outposts Harsha and Hayovel. After the state acknowledged the outposts were not legal and after the usual excuse of "security considerations" and after "planning considerations," the attorney general's representative requested consideration of "the political circumstances that prevail at this time, and especially the fact that a real possibility exists that elections will be held within a period of about four months."

Squatters in the park

Another example of the cooperation among the military authorities, the Civil Administration and the State Prosecutor's Office can be found every day in the Nahal Prat (Wadi Kelt) Nature Reserve. A few years ago Rachel Yisrael, the daughter of MK Uri Ariel (National Union) squatted with members of her family in an abandoned building in the nature reserve. More than two years ago the trustee of abandoned and government property in the Civil Administration issued an evacuation order, which stipulated that their living in the area of a closed reserve was contrary to the rules of behavior in reserves and to the nature preservation policy, and was also liable to be a criminal violation under Provision 12 of the Nature Preservation order.

And what has the Parks Authority done? It is continuing to employ Yisrael as warden in that reserve. And the State Prosecutor's Office? Every time the matter goes back to the High Court of Justice for a final ruling on a petition against the warden and the guardians of the law, it asks for another postponement.

Apparently there is no crime more organized than the affair of Matityahu East, a new neighborhood in Modi'in Illit in the West Bank, right on the course of the disputed fence in the area of the village of Bil'in. In recent weeks it has been reported here that the Civil Administration and the State Prosecutor's Office have confirmed that hundreds of apartments are being built there without permit, among them some that have gone up on private land purchased in shady ways. Following this, Haaretz has received two astounding documents that reveal the criminals' modes of operation and the help they receive from the state.

In the first of these documents, from March 15, 2003, Leon Ben David from the PPM construction company writes to the head of the Modi'in council, Yaakov Gutterman: "We have embarked on the Matityahu East project after receiving your blessing for getting building permits for approximately 1,500 housing units according to the urban construction plan that is in force, and in accordance with the above agreement we have sold plots to the Hefzibah company and it is selling apartments to purchasers."

The entrepreneur's representative asks the head of the council to instruct the council engineer "to implement the agreements between us and issue building permits as agreed." In the second document, from September 9, 2004, Shlomo Moskowitz, the director of the planning bureau at the Civil Administration, reveals to Shmuel Heisler, the internal controller of the Modi'in council, that "the permits that were given in Matityahu East were without a doubt given contrary to the instructions of the plan that is in force and therefore without the authority of the licensing authority. The justification for issuing the licenses [as reported to me verbally] was establishing facts on the ground and preventing the Hefzibah company from leaving the site."

In short - the name of the person who holds the statutory role in every matter, the supreme head of the planning bodies in the West Bank, is signed on a document in which he acknowledges that an entire neighborhood is being built without a permit and that he is protesting because the entrepreneur worked hand in glove with the council head and "established facts on the ground" for fear that the contractor would run away.

At full speed

Yesterday the Justice Ministry stated that last Monday the legal bureau of Ayosh (the Judea and Samaria Region) informed attorney Sfard, who represents the head of the Bil'in village council, that the head of the Civil Administration himself has intervened in the matter recently. "A preliminary inspection carried out in the field has found that the work that is being carried without a permit in the aforementioned neighborhood has been stopped by order of the Modi'in Illit local planning and construction commission." Quite by chance, on that very same day Dror Etkes of Peace Now visited the site and photographed the bulldozers and the laborers building at full speed. At the same time, the Civil Administration spokesman told Haaretz that "no decision has been taken yet on the matter of work stoppage orders" and he has "no estimate of when such a decision will be taken."

What can the attorney general do to stop this organized crime? He must inform the defense minister, the GOC and the head of the Civil Administration that the Justice Ministry refuses to use taxpayers' money to defend organized acts of looting. After all, the State Prosecutor's Office is not comprised of private defense lawyers who for a substantial fee represent every criminal who knocks on their office door. There have been attorneys general who have refused to cover for less despicable acts than these.

The response from the Justice Ministry: "The responsibility and the authority concerning illegal building in Judea and Samaria is in the hands of the defense establishment. The only role of the State Prosecutor's Office is to act for the sake of enforcement in that area. The State Prosecutor's Office has contacted the Ayosh legal bureau and has requested that the military authorities check - and to the extent that it is necessary exert their authority - concerning the illegal construction being carried out in Modi'in Illit."

The spokesman notes that the sentence, "To this must be added the political circumstances that prevail at this time, and especially the fact that a real possibility exists that elections will be held within a period of about four months" - was merely an incidental comment and it must not be concluded from this that the state believes that enforcement activities must not be carried out during the course of this period, but only requested a postponement.