A recent hearing of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, initiated by Regavim, exposed gaps in the Police Force’s reporting of enforcement operations regarding planning and construction violations. The Police Force was required to submit a “transparent” and detailed report of its activities, and to explain why the specialized unit created to deal exclusively with building-code cases has been diverted, time and time again, to other policework assignments – in violation of the government decision that created the unit in the first place.
The oversight and enforcement of Israel’s Planning and Building Code can only be carried out under the protection of a Police Force security detail. For this specific purpose, a specialized unit was created within the Israel Police in 2004: The Authority for Coordination of Enforcement Operations (known by the Hebrew acronym “MaTPA”). This unit was created for the sole purpose of providing support for enforcement operations involving building violations, and was charged with providing the necessary support to local authorities, municipalities, and planning boards.
There are more than 200 local and regional planning councils, as well as numerous national authorities and other bodies responsible for enforcement of building laws. The all- too- familiar complaint of insufficient police support for their enforcement efforts was the impetus for the creation of a special task force, under the auspices of Assistant Attorney General Erez Kaminitz, whose final report, publicized in 2016, noted that the task force was unable to bridge the gap between the enforcement bodies’ charges of a lack of sufficient police support for enforcement operations versus the Police Force’s claim that sufficient and efficient support was provided whenever requests for such support were received.
The Kaminitz Committee’s findings served as the basis for Amendment 116 to Israel’s Planning and Construction Code, passed by the Knesset in 2017. In light of the lack of improvement in the situation since the laws’ passage, Regavim initiated a special hearing of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, which was held last week.
The MaTPA unit of the Israel Police Force is required to report to the government bi-annually, and has claimed in these reports to have provided support for more than 2000 demolitions of illegal structures each year. However, these figures are at odds with the data provided by the Police Force in response to Regavim’s Freedom of Information petitions.
At the hearing, Hezi Eyal, Regavim’s Field Coordinator for the Northern Region, explained that the data presented in the Police Force report are national numbers, and are not subdivided by region. Since the overwhelming majority of enforcement operations are carried out in the Southern Region, where enforcement has become relatively widespread, the data are skewed and do not accurately reflect the situation “on the ground” throughout Israel. Furthermore, inclusion of cases in which illegal structures are dismantled voluntarily, without police involvement, further inflates the figures presented by MaTPA.
In the course of last week’s Knesset hearing, the representative of the Police Department’s Enforcement Authority admitted that the specialized MaTPA unit spends only 70% of its time enforcing planning and building laws. This admission infuriated MK Betzalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi Party), who quoted the government decision that outlines the unit’s mandate: “The sole task of this unit is to provide support for enforcement of Israel’s Planning and Construction Law – 100% of the time. Any and all other assignments require the authorization of the Chief of Police on a case-by-case basis.” Moreover, Smotrich noted, often the Police Force does not follow through on scheduled demolitions because of intelligence warnings. The Knesset Committee made it clear that aborting an operation of this kind requires direct and specific authorization by the Chief of Police; the current practice of cancelling demolition operations on the basis of an intelligence officer’s warning violates the law.
Attorney Boaz Arzi of Regavim’s Legal Department presented a model for the creation of a digital portal that would enable all relevant bodies to request police support for enforcement operations. This on-line portal would establish uniform procedures for submitting requests, and at the same time would create transparency regarding the Police Force’s allocation of resources and manpower and facilitate monitoring and oversight of enforcement procedures.
At the conclusion of the highly-charged hearing, the participants enjoyed a rather entertaining moment, when MK Juma’a Azbarga of the United Arab List asserted that “Regavim does the work of the Planning and Construction Council. Regavim has become the body that creates policy as well as the body in charge of its execution, and everything else.”
In summing up the hearing, Chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) required the Police Force to submit a clear and transparent report that clarifies the unexplained gaps in the data it provides, including a breakdown of enforcement operations by region, and an explanation of the re-assignment of the specialized MaTPA unit’s resources and personnel to other types of police work, in violation of the government decision that created the unit.