Legitimization of land theft

Editorial

Haaretz

Adar 8, 5767

The theft of private land and lawless construction, with the authorities' collaboration, have long been routine in the land of the settlers. The scope of these deeds and their seriousness are described extensively in the report on illegal outposts compiled by Talia Sasson, formerly a senior state prosecution attorney. The report was buried almost two years ago.

However, the decision of the Supreme Planning Council (SPC) for Judea and Samaria, which was revealed in Haaretz on Sunday, to legitimize the plan to build the Matityahu East neighborhood in Modi'in Ilit, beyond the Green Line, marks a nadir.

The plan is to legitimize 42 high-rises, which are in various stages of construction, some of them on land allegedly stolen from the villagers of Bil'in. All of the high-rises being built contravene the planning and construction laws. Peace Now and Bil'in's residents petitioned the High Court of Justice two years ago to have construction stopped. The legal counsel of Modi'in Ilit warned in writing of "construction offenses of such colossal proportions, ignoring the law and planning regulations, that words cannot describe [them]."

Following the petition, with the support of the State Prosecution, the High Court ordered a halt to construction and to the neighborhood's occupancy more than a year ago. At that time the prosecution instructed the police to open an investigation into those involved in the affair.

The authorities responsible for enforcing the region's planning and building laws knew what was going on and turned a blind eye. Instead, they recently decided to legitimize it retroactively.

Matityahu East is the latest in a series of such affairs in which the separation barrier, supposedly serving Israel's security needs, is used to annex West Bank territory to expand the settlements. The defense minister is dragging his feet on everything concerning the evacuation of illegal outposts. At the same time, bodies he is responsible for - led by the civil administration - are colluding in land grabbing and legitimizing illegal construction throughout the West Bank.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is not fulfilling his duty by publicly denouncing the anarchy in the territories in everything concerning law enforcement. He must demand that the defense minister halt the implementation of the SPC's plan until the inquiry into suspicions of land theft is completed.

The scope of the offenses and the advanced stages of building and selling of apartments most not provide shelter for scofflaws. Peace Now is to be commended for its legal aid to Bil'in residents - as are the Israeli and international peace activists who come every week to demonstrate against the fence being built there.

The High Court did not hesitate to halt the construction in Matityahu East until the planning procedures and inquiry into the ownership issue could be completed. If the government does not quash the planning council's decision to allow construction to continue, the High Court will have no choice but to respond to the recent petition. It will have to abrogate that decision, to protect both the rule of law and the rights of those victimized by its breach.