Illegal construction on IDF Training Ground 918

This article first appeared on the JNS Wire.

Through incessant legal and procedural appeals, the PA has upended Israeli law enforcement and set the system against itself, creating facts on the ground and laying the foundations of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel.

It’s no secret that the system of law in force in Judea and Samaria is far from ideal: In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the Israeli government balked.

Rather than applying Israeli law to the territory liberated in 1967 — territory that had always been within the internationally recognized borders of the Jewish homeland—Israel chose instead to “temporarily” maintain the existing legal framework. Despite the fact that Jordan’s invasion, occupation and annexation of Judea and Samaria (the areas that it then began to refer to as “the West Bank” as a means of justifying its presence there) were illegal, and were never recognized by the international community, Israel deemed it more prudent not to act on its very solid and exclusive claims to the historic heartland of Israel.

Instead, it left the territory to the mercy of a hodgepodge of legal relics, pasted together with a smattering of military orders, that has continued to hold sway for more than half a century — longer than the Jordanian occupation and the British Mandate combined.

It’s no secret that this outmoded and convoluted system is a gold mine for construction offenders. Nor is it a secret that the Palestinian Authority and its generous European supporters have perfected the art of using this “system” to their advantage.

Antiquated, ineffective and labyrinthine Jordanian regulations have been famously exploited in what is known as “lawfare”: Through incessant legal and procedural appeals, the PA has upended Israeli law enforcement and set the system against itself, creating facts on the ground that are re-drawing the map and laying the foundations of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel.

Over the past two years, Regavim has filed a number of administrative petitions in the Jerusalem District Court (which serves as the Court for Administrative Affairs) against the Ministry of Defense and the Civil Administration, regarding instances of illegal construction and de facto annexation by the P.A. and its local authorities. Specifically, Regavim’s petitions sought the implementation and execution of the “Order for Removal of New Structures,” military legislation created by the defense establishment in 2018 to cut through the legal and bureaucratic red tape that characterizes “standard enforcement procedures” in Judea and Samaria, the legal quicksand that has made law enforcement virtually non-existent.

Again and again, the state’s lawyers argued for dismissal of Regavim’s petitions on jurisdictional grounds: The New Structures Order, they claimed, does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court, and should be heard in the High Court of Justice (HCJ).

But when Regavim petitioned the HCJ to compel the state to enforce the “New Structures Order,” the government’s lawyers argued that the petitions should be dismissed out of hand, because an alternative legal remedy is available — namely, “standard enforcement procedures” arising from the Planning and Construction Code. Even though these alternative legal remedies have not been enforced, the state argued, the proper forum for hearing these cases is … the District Court.

The long and short of it is that the government’s enforcement arm is trying to dodge any and all cases involving its failure to enforce the law — either under the New Structures Order or under the Jordanian Planning and Construction Code, whether in the District Court or in the HCJ.

Avi Segal, Regavim’s attorney, explained: “At issue is a broader question that goes beyond the individual cases. The government is shirking its responsibility to enforce the law. This is a deliberate attempt to create a legal ‘Catch 22’ that will neuter the law and empty it of all meaning, while at the same time limiting the public’s ability to scrutinize and evaluate the state’s continued inaction before a court of law — whatever court that may be.”

In the HCJ hearing on Sept. 13, Justices Anat Baron, Yael Vilner and Ofer Grosskopf had some very pointed criticism for the State Attorney. The justices required the government to provide answers, rather than hiding behind procedural cat-and-mouse jurisdictional arguments.

The court’s decision is quite clear: The state will not be allowed to continue to duck the questions raised by Regavim’s petitions, nor will it be allowed to continue to use the “Catch 22” of jurisdiction to avoid enforcing the law. The state was required to submit, within 60 days, substantive arguments regarding its failure to enact the “Removal of New Structures Order” in these cases.

Furthermore, the state was required to submit, within 60 days, an update on its progress towards amending the “Removal of New Structures Order,” so that the question of jurisdiction is clarified once and for all.

Perhaps this will go down in history as the day that the government was forced to own up to its failure to protect Israel’s interests in Judea and Samaria, and the day that the Israeli version of “Catch 22” began to unravel.

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!

Yesterday, the Jerusalem Municipality and Israeli security forces tore down the illegal business complex at the north-eastern entrance to Jerusalem. The busy road going into the city can now be widened, which is sure to ease the traffic that drivers have become accustomed to near Hizma.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Arab residents who drive past Hizma suffer from the heavy traffic caused by the illegal complex. The complex also caused huge environmental damage because of waste disposal and misconduct of goods. And due to the proximity to the security fence, the businesses also provided a security threat.

Recently, we told you about the hearing on our petition at the Jerusalem District Court. During the hearing, a representative of the Ministry of Defense presented a secret enforcement plan to the judges while no one else was in the room. Our impression was that the Court reviewed the plan seriously, thus we agreed to pull our petition. However, we protested the decision to postpone enforcement at the complex, and demanded that the authorities implement the plan, in line with their promise to the Court.

Yesterday, the State finally fulfilled its promises and demolished a significant part of the complex. It’s a shame, however, that this case had to reach the Courts instead of the State enforcing the law straight away, when the first illegal business opened up.

The Binyamin Regional Council can now go ahead with their plan to add more lanes to the road, improving the lives of all the region’s residents.

We’re satisfied with this success, and will continue to advocate for law and order, equal enforcement and equal protection under the law as our only bulwark against chaos – now and always. To support our activities, make an online, tax-deductible donation here.

Illegal construction in Duma, not far from Shechem

We’ve often mentioned the “Order for Demolition of New Structures” – legislation from 2018 that was approved by the High Court in recent rulings. On paper, the legislation empowers the demolition of new, illegal structures in Judea and Samaria within 96 hours.

However, since the legislation was passed, the Civil Administration has rarely used the enforcement tool – despite the widespread problem of mass illegal construction.

Regavim has filed a number of District Court petitions to force the Civil Administration to apply the legislation. In these court hearings, State Attorney representatives explained that the District Court has no right to judge cases involving the “Order for Demolition of New Structures”, and that these cases must go to the High Court of Justice.

So we acted in line with this standpoint, and recently we petitioned the High Court about the huge take-over of land in the Arab village of Duma. We demanded that the High Court judges instruct the Civil Administration to issue the Order.

But now the State Attorney representatives have asked to reject our petition on the basis that the authority to hear cases lies with… the District Court!

We’re confused. One moment, the State Attorney says that these cases must be heard in the High Court; the next moment, they say it’s the District Court.

As you probably assumed, while the Courts play a game of ping-pong, the residents of Duma continue their charge toward more land grabs. Recently, they even fully paved a new “road” without permission, as part of the #BattleforAreaC.

Regavim has submitted a harsh response to the Court, calling for the judiciary not to allow the Civil Administration and the State Attorney’s Office to turn the rule of law into a joke. We’ve demanded that the High Court of Justice uses its power and authority to instruct the CA to put an immediate halt to illegal construction projects in Duma.

Regavim: Protecting Israel’s Resources, Preserving Israeli Sovereignty

Illegal structure near Duma
Up close: The illegal school next to the Herodion

For over three years, Regavim has been involved in a legal battle over an illegal school built right next to the Herodion, probably one of Israel’s most important historical sites.  

Back in 2018, we petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Civil Administration as the new school was allowed to spring up without permits. A demolition order had been issued, but the Civil Administration took no steps to enforce it. Our petition was rejected because the State had reached an agreement with the construction criminal whereby he would submit a permit request to the Planning and Authorization Subcommittee.    

After his request was dismissed, he petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to protest the decision. The Court issued a temporary order to instruct that until a different decision is reached in this case, the Civil Administration would not take enforcement steps against the structure.    

Since our 2018 petition was rejected, we consistently questioned the Civil Administration to clarify where the school’s planning and administrative procedures stood. Occasionally, we received partial updates about the legal status of the school.    

In March this year, the Civil Administration responded that indeed the permit request submitted by the construction criminal was rejected, yet they are unable to tear down the school because of the temporary order from the District Court.    

However, the Civil Administration is simply not telling the truth.    

We checked and found that the construction criminal’s petition had already been dismissed, along with the temporary order that had been cancelled, ten days before the Civil Administration’s response. It turns out that there was no legal obstacle in the way of exercising the demolition orders! The Civil Administration didn’t mention this important fact, nor did it take any practical action.    

Now, with legal procedures exhausted, we demand that the Civil Administration act immediately to carry out the demolition order against the school – which has expanded over the last year.    

The Civil Administration must prove that it is committed to the rule of law and to the protection of important heritage sites that belong to the State of Israel. No more excuses!

Illegal construction in Nahalin

We’ve been in the business of protecting Israel’s land resources for many years, but this episode is something we’ve never encountered before. In one of our recent legal cases, the Jerusalem District Court accepted the Civil Administration’s narrative, despite its neglectful conduct, and decided to hit Regavim with a 10,000 shekels fine!

Let’s start from the beginning.

A year ago, we told you about the illegal expansion of the Nahalin village in Gush Etzion. The moment the new plots began to be developed (illegally!), we recognized the threat posed to the nearby community of Rosh Tzurim, which is being choked.

We approached the Civil Administration, an official enforcement body of the State of Israel that must act in accordance with the law, to demand law enforcement at the site. However, the CA didn’t do much. Inspectors came to the site and hung up stop work orders, but construction continued relentlessly. The orders were completely ignored, and the area is now an illegal, Arab neighborhood.

After we sent more alerts to the authorities and didn’t receive any proper responses, we filed a petition with the Jerusalem District Court against the Civil Administration. As usual, the CA told the judges that enforcement at the site would happen “in accordance with established enforcement priorities”. This was not surprising.

However, this time, instead of criticizing the CA for not doing its job, the Court bought the excuse of “enforcement priorities”! Our petition was rejected, and we were charged with the expenses, a hefty fine totaling ₪10,000.

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The Civil Administration’s goal is to exhaust Regavim, and to make us relinquish our efforts. You see, CA officials don’t really like it when we submit petitions and alerts, and when we present their deficiencies in the media and elsewhere. The CA prefers to deflect public criticism, attempting to hide their failures.

With each petition we file, we know that there is a chance that it will be rejected. But we are always guided by the importance of our mission, first and foremost: the protection of Israel’s resources and preservation of sovereignty. If Regavim didn’t exist, the situation on the ground would be much worse.

We call on you, our friends and supporters in Israel and abroad, to help us cover the costs. In order to continue our Zionist activities, and to point out the shortcomings of Israel’s enforcement bodies, we need your help. Make an online, tax-deductible donation here.

Aerial map of Nahalin; numbers indicate illegal structures