The illegal school near Kisan, eastern Gush Etzion

Switzerland is a supposedly neutral country that doesn’t take sides in any conflict and remained (or at least claimed to be) neutral during both world wars. Well, it turns out that the “conflict” in Judea and Samaria can tilt even the most neutral forces.

A few weeks ago, we sent a letter to the Swiss embassy in Israel after learning that the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) had funded a huge, illegal school on Israeli state lands near the village of Kisan in Gush Etzion. In the letter, we requested that the Swiss government desist from further participation in illegal construction or other Palestinian Authority attempts to unilaterally redraw the map of Area C.

The response: “Switzerland considers that the planning and zoning regime, as implemented by Israel in Area C, is not in conformity with international law. Switzerland also considers that the regime is implemented in a discriminatory manner, undermining prospects for a two-state solution.”

We’d like to remind the Swiss that all construction without planning permission from the Civil Administration is illegal. It violates both the military orders and civil laws in force in this territory, as well as international law and the principle of non-intervention, a foundational element of the United Nations charter.

The biggest absurdity in the letter came in the next line: “We welcome the recent commitment of the Israeli authorities to grant more building permits for Palestinians in Area C.”

Perhaps then you should decide: do you recognize Israeli jurisdiction in Area C or not? The truth is, the question should really be aimed at the Israeli government.

Over many years, Regavim has been sounding the alarm about undisturbed, immoral, and unlawful European activity in Judea and Samaria. We call on the Israeli government to awaken from its slumber, stand up for its rights, and begin to fight the #BattleforAreaC.

In November, we posted about dozens of staffing allocations for Civil Administration inspectors supposed to fight the #BattleforAreaC that have been reassigned to other CA tasks. So even in cases where private Jewish lands are seized by Arabs, the authorities are busy with other things. And what about the rule of law? Forget about it.

In 1979, Moshe Zar, a prominent land dealer in Judea and Samaria, began to purchase lands through a Jordanian company that he founded (because of the law that prevents individual Jews from buying land in Judea and Samaria). For around three years, he used his hard-earned savings to buy thousands of dunams.

In the last few months, our field coordinator, along with the Samaria Regional Council’s Land Division, was shocked to discover an extensive invasion of Moshe Zar’s lands. Every month, the illegal construction projects are gaining ground – quite literally – under the unwatchful eyes of the Israeli authorities.

In order to protect Zar’s property rights, we sent an urgent letter to the Civil Administration in which we demanded quick and critical enforcement action against the illegal construction.

This is the response we received: “Enforcement and supervision will be taken in accordance with procedures, and the implementation of enforcement will be determined in line with established enforcement priorities and subject to operational considerations.” However, up until this very day, no enforcement has been carried out, no equipment or vehicles have been confiscated, and the construction projects have only expanded.

Illegal structures in the Adumim region (E1)

This morning (Monday), the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus held a hearing focusing on the battle for Judea and Samaria.

Meir Deutsch, Director General of the Regavim Movement, shared updated data upon which Regavim based its recently-released precise map of Area C. The satellite mapping project revealed the alarming situation on the ground: From 2019 -2021, the Palestinians built 5097 new illegal structures in areas under full Israeli jurisdiction, an average of 7 new illegal structures per day. These new structures joined the already-staggering tally of illegal construction, for a total of 72,274 illegal structures in Area C.

On a parallel track, during the same two-year period the Palestinian Authority used agricultural projects to seize control of 7,125 dunams of Israeli state land, for a total of 93,071 dunams (93,071,000 square meters or 23,268 acres).

By planting hundreds of thousands of trees in the undeveloped open spaces of Area C, creating agricultural roads spanning dozens of kilometers each year, digging wells, cisterns and water delivery and irrigation systems, the Palestinian continues to exploit a loophole in Ottoman Land Law, still in force in Judea and Samaria, to wrest land rights from the State of Israel and establish de facto Palestinian control.

While the newly-released data indicate a slight reduction in the rate of illegal Palestinian construction compared to the previous two-year period, when 7,957 illegal structures were built (an average of 11 per day), the rate of agricultural land-grabs has remained virtually unchanged.

Regavim explained the lower rate of construction coupled with a steady rate of agricultural annexation as the result of the European Union’s decision to shift its funding away from illegal construction in order to focus on two alternative tracks: “lawfare” to prevent enforcement against new and existing illegal structures, and agricultural projects that achieve much greater territorial gains with far smaller financial investment.

“The Palestinian Authority is drawing the lines of the State of Palestine and presenting Israel with immutable facts on the ground. This is a strategic challenge of the first order, and one that Israel’s governments have done virtually nothing to address. It is a policy failure of a magnitude not seen since the Yom Kippur War,” said Deutsch.

Enforcement in Judea and Samaria

We got our hands on the information that we worked so hard to receive, finally. The news is upsetting, but it’s important for everyone to know. Israel’s Ministry of Defense has admitted that it has two different levels of enforcement in Judea and Samaria: one for Jews, and one for Arabs. We’ll let you guess where the enforcement is more heavy-handed.

For many months, we’ve been awaiting answers from the Ministry of Defense about the enforcement guidelines that are exercised in Judea and Samaria. Thanks to the petition that we filed, the Ministry was forced to admit that it’s not exactly ‘neutral’. Illegal Arab structures – in; illegal Jewish structures – out.

There’s no equality here, just plain racism. “Israeli construction that invades private land” is at the top of the enforcement priorities list, while “Arab construction that invades private land” is at the bottom of the list.

There are 60,000 illegal Arab structures in Judea and Samaria. 60,000! The law can and should be implemented against them, yet the Ministry of Defense allows the law enforcement bodies to turn a blind eye.

We demand that the Ministry of Defense assembles one list with all its enforcement priorities – to allow for equal, transparent, and fair management of its policies.

A few months ago, we posted about the Arab invasion of Israeli lands between the Binyamin region and the Jordan Valley, next to the village of Duma. Near the Alon Road, Duma residents began a mass takeover of Israeli state lands: illegal structures, roads, fences, etc.

The illegal structures were built a significant distance from the village. The Palestinian Authority’s tactic is simple; we’ve noticed the same pattern time and again: they identify a strategic point far away from an already-existing population center, seize the entire territory, find another location farther away, build, and so on.

We approached the authorities a number of times about this issue, and applied pressure for the law to be enforced. Soon after, this week, the enforcement authorities restored the area to its original state and tore down the illegal structures.

This is an example of what we do on a daily basis. It starts with a presence on the ground, as our field coordinators throughout the country monitor and document illegal land grabs. We then alert the authorities and apply legal pressure to uphold the law.

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Illegal construction on IDF Training Ground 918

A new Regavim petition to the High Court of Justice has exposed an illegal internal protocol created by the Civil Administration, an arm of the Ministry of Defense. The very people in charge of enforcement are aiding and encouraging illegal construction!

Let’s say theres an illegal structure built by an Arab in Area C, which is under Israeli jurisdiction. The construction offender receives a demolition order. But instead of actually demolishing the illegal structure, the State of Israel, via the Civil Administration, allows the criminal to launch a bureaucratic cat-and-mouse game. By simply applying for a building permit, submitting an appeal when the permit request is denied, applying for a ‘taba’ (urban planning permit), and even an “exemption from enforcement” – the offender enjoys blanket protection against enforcement for years on end – even though this protection has no basis in the law. As crazy as that sounds, it’s standard procedure.

Each request, no matter how ridiculous, automatically suspends enforcement, and pushes off the structure’s demolition by two or three years. By then, another planning request is submitted, enforcement is again suspended, and so on. Once the process finally runs it’s course, the structure is considered “old construction” – which doesn’t interest anyone, certainly not the Civil Administration’s enforcement officers.

The legal departments of Israel’s security establishment are responsible for this procedural protocol – which is aiding and abetting the creation of a terrorist state in the heart of the Land of Israel. The Palestinian Authority learned and mastered the game ages ago, and continues to build rapidly, illegally, and strategically, all the while flooding the system with nonsensical, futile permit requests in order to delay and eventually prevent enforcement.

Watch this video, and see how the Civil Administration has stacked the deck and undermined the law.

We pressed, we demanded, we didn’t give up – and the dangerous structure at Yakir junction was torn down!

At the beginning of August, we noticed Arab residents of Judea and Samaria building a structure near the Yakir junction, without the necessary permits. Over the years, shops were built illegally, one after another, next to the main road, leading to traffic accidents going in and out of the junction.

Thanks to Regavim’s intensive pressure on the authorities and the local councils, Civil Administration inspectors came to knock down the structure this week.

This is a chance to commend the Civil Administration for their efforts. However, it’s worth remembering that had enforcement steps been taken on time, the structure wouldn’t have been built in the first place.

We hope that enforcement will be even more effective and swift in the future.

A screenshot of the Kisan village’s Facebook page that notes Swiss involvement in the construction of an illegal school

In early September, there was a special celebration in the village of Kisan in eastern Gush Etzion in honor of the opening of a new school. But, as we told you before, the school was built without permits by the Palestinian Authority.

The construction period was short, and lasted just over a year. As soon as construction started, we sent urgent letters to the Civil Administration and the other Israeli authorities to stop yet another land grab. But that didn’t help. So we went to the Jerusalem District Court, although our petition was rejected because of the State’s promise in the court hearing to enforce the law at site.

But, of course, the law wasn’t enforced, and the school began to function in September 2020. Immediately, we petitioned the Court (again) to request an interim order that would prevent the opening of the school, but the Court didn’t comply with our request. And now, a year later, the illegal school in Kisan celebrates the Israeli authorities’ failure.

And it’s important to mention a line published on the village’s Facebook page: “It’s worth noting that the Kisan school project was funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)”. That’s right, the famously ‘neutral’ Switzerland, that claims not to take any side in any conflict, is defying Israeli law, the European Union charter, and international law. The Swiss government is aiding the Palestinian Authority’s plan to establish a de-facto state in a territory that belongs to Israel according to international agreements.

For years, we’ve been protesting against the gross intervention of European governments in Area C. And for years, the State of Israel has decided to shut its eyes and ears as it squanders state lands. This is a major disgrace – in every sense.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty

The illegal Bedouin outpost of Khan al Ahmar near Kfar Adumim

Khan al Ahmar: High Court of Justice grants the government an additional delay.  “Compromise attempts have become uncompromising contempt.”

The High Court of Justice granted the government an additional six-month delay in the Khan al Ahmar case. Regavim: Kicking the can down the road isn’t the solution, it’s part of the problem.

This morning (Wednesday), the High Court of Justice approved the government’s request for an additional six month extension of the deadline, to present to the court its plan for the evacuation of Khan al Ahmar, an illegal Palestinian Authority/European Union –supported  outpost in the Adumim Region. The decision is the most recent stage in the sixth petition filed by the Regavim Movement against what it has called “the Palestinian Authority’s flagship outpost in the systematic takeover of Area C.” In 2009, Regavim filed the first petition against this Bedouin encampment on Route 1, a few short minutes’ drive from Jerusalem, in an attempt to compel the Israeli government to enforce the law and block the PA’s creeping annexation of state land throughout Judea and Samaria.

Presiding over the judicial panel, Justice Solberg’s decision included harsh criticism of the government’s conduct: “There is no doubt that the day is fast approaching when it will no longer be possible to accept the lack of clarity in this case, which requires a clear and decisive resolution – one way or the other. Even if the various proposed solutions were sufficient cause to postpone the inevitable, it is not possible to stall indefinitely. Even attempts to reach a consensual resolution must have limits. At a certain point, these attempts become a source of contempt, and this we must not accept. Our job as judges is to bring clarity to the petitions that are brought before us; this is our task, and this is our duty. We cannot sit idly by and do nothing in the face of this continued procrastination. We intend to complete the hearing process in this case soon after the government files its reply and after we consider any further responses to that reply; either way, this case must be resolved.”

Justice Stein joined Justice Solberg’s decision, adding that “the principle of legality, which we have been entrusted to carry out and to encourage, does not allow the state to ‘sit on the fence’ for years at a time and gaze at illegal structures without taking a definitive decision to either regulate or demolish them.”

Justice George Kra expressed reservations regarding the criticism voiced by his fellow justices, noting that he “at this time I see no reason to tie the court’s hands and limit our options regarding the continued adjudication of this petition.”

The Regavim Movement, which has been at the forefront of judicial and public opinion efforts to combat Palestinian annexation in Judea and Samaria, has been waging the battle for law enforcement in the Adumim Region through over a decade of Supreme Court petitions.

Responding to this morning’s decision, Meir Deutsch, Director General of Regavim, noted: “The chronic ‘after-the-holidays’ excuse isn’t a solution – it’s part of the problem.  In the case of Khan al Ahmar, procrastination is an attempt to ignore reality and erase hard facts. The state is attempting, for the umpteenth time, to push off its commitment to evacuate Khan al Ahmar – until after the next holiday, Passover. Procrastination won’t change the bottom line: The State of Israel must take action against the ongoing Palestinian takeover of Judea and Samaria. Khan al Ahmar has been, and continues to be, the test case for the larger strategic challenge.”

It took a mere 12 months for the Palestinian Authority to build this enormous, impressive, and illegal school in Kisan, eastern Gush Etzion.

As soon as construction was underway, we petitioned the Jerusalem District Court – since the Israeli authorities did absolutely nothing to prevent yet another land grab. In response to our petition, the State representatives told the judges that Stop Work Orders and demolition orders had been issued against the illegal structure, however they refused to commit to a timetable of when the law would be enforced. Unfortunately, the Court accepted the State’s claims and rejected our petition.

The months passed by, construction was completed, and students are now pouring into the school.

We promised not to allow the story to end this way, so we’ve decided to file another petition with the Court. Rather than rewarding illegal activity, the State should be made to close down the school!

This school is merely one example of a widespread phenomenon. Recently, we published – in Hebrew – a comprehensive report about illegal, PA-built schools in Area C. The English version should be available in the nearby future. Our report reveals that, over the last decade, the Palestinian Authority has built 100 (!) schools without permits in strategic areas.

You might be thinking: ‘These schools are crucial for the education of Palestinian schoolchildren!’ But no. Our data indicates that these schools are no humanitarian necessity; they were quickly set up, without permits, in order to advance the Fayyad plan. The density in PA schools (313 students on average per school) is lower than in Israeli schools (337 students on average per school) and much lower than the density in schools in Jordan (476.9 students on average).

An analysis of our data also proves that these new schools weren’t built to compensate for problems of long distances. All of the schools, without exception, were established between a few hundred meters to three kilometers from already-existing schools.

You see, the PA knows all too well that Israel is unlikely to knock down the illegal schools. If Israeli authorities enforce the law, the media pump out heartbreaking photos of underprivileged children being ‘denied’ an education. If Israel turns a blind eye in order to avoid a black eye, the schools become anchors for new outposts in previously uninhabited – and generally uninhabitable – areas, and more funding pours in to alleviate the humanitarian hardships of these fabricated communities.

On a daily basis, the PA works to change the map, seizing strategic points throughout the territory. We call on the State of Israel to internalize, once and for all, that in the BattleforAreaC it has a right, responsibility, and a national interest to prevent illegal Palestinian construction. Time to wake up, before a de-facto Palestinian terror state is established in Israel’s heartland!