With friends in high places, law-evading ploys and piles of money in the bank, veteran settler leader Ze'ev Hever and his organisation Amana are seemingly immune to Israeli legal action.
By Chaim Levinson 13 May 2013 Haaretz
Ze'ev Hever, right, with IDF Spokesperson Yoav Moredechai, then head of Civil Administration, center.Photo by Tess Scheflan
Theoretically, the Civil Administration - the Israel Defense Forces body responsible for infrastructure law enforcement in the West Bank - should have jumped into action now that seven permanent dwellings are under construction in the settler outpost of Mitzpeh Danny (10 kilometers east of Ramallah). The outpost, established 15 years ago, is entering its final development stages after a lengthy period in which the settlers lived in trailers, flimsy structures and all kinds of patchwork arrangements.
According to its mandate and the order of priorities it has set for itself, the Civil Administration is supposed to demolish these new structures. Uninhabited new structures are second in the Civil Administration's list of tasks (first comes the implementation of court orders), based on the approach that the demolition of inhabited homes generates a human tragedy and a political brouhaha.
Don't hold your breath waiting for the new homes to be razed. They are being built by Amana, a cooperative society headed by the legendary Ze'ev ('Zambish') Hever, 59, one of the leaders of the settlement enterprise in the territories and a member of the Jewish Underground, a militant terrorist organization that operated in the West Bank in the 1980s. The homes in Mitzpeh Danny are being built according to one of Amana's three basic models: When you're building the Land of Israel, you don't get caught up in architectural niceties.
There are two types of settler outposts in the territories: those which exist under Hever's auspices - and under what appears to be full protection from the law - and those set up by so-called "hilltop youth." Civil Administration inspectors drop in for visits at Hever's outposts to deliver demolition orders, which doesn't bother the settlers much. Construction continues unabated and stops only by order of the Supreme Court, if they are ever issued.
That's how the system works, thanks to Hever's close and extensive ties with state authorities. For example, even though he devotes himself to illegal construction, he has already met twice with the newly appointed justice minister, Tzipi Livni. In contrast, outposts not under Hever's protection are constantly subjected to demolition and repeated visits by the police.
Mitzpeh Danny is not alone, of course. Amana currently maintains hundreds oftrailers and dozens of construction sites without permits. In the past, the organization built thousands of homes without authorization. Some have since been legalized, no one cares about others. The State Prosecutor's Office is well aware of all this. A brief visit to Amana's website reveals the scope of the illegal construction. Amana often takes on illegal projects, ones no other contractor would consider.
An investigation by Haaretz exposes the role played by Hever in illegal construction on a vast scale, and raises questions about his consistent ability to evade punishment.
Amana was founded in 1978 as the settlement movement of Gush Emunim. It is registered as a cooperative society, located on Paran Street in Jerusalem's Ramat Eshkol neighborhood. The current housing and construction minister, Uri Ariel, was Amana's general secretary in the 1980s.
The organization's activity is conducted largely through a subsidiary, Binyanei Bar Amana. According to the division between the two, Amana plans and initiates the construction projects, wields political connections and obtains authorizations or devises means to sidestep the law; Binyanei Bar Amana does the actual construction. Almost all of that construction takes place in the West Bank. With the exception of isolated villages - such as Bar Yohai and Or Haganuz in Galilee, and communities for former residents of Gush Katif (the evacuated Gaza Strip settlement bloc) - all of Amana's construction is being done across the Green Line. Hever became the society's general secretary in 1989.
Hever, whose original name was Friedman, was born in Ramat Gan and joined Gush Emunim at a young age. In the 1970s, he was secretary of the regional council of Kiryat Arba, an urban settlement abutting on Hebron. As a member of the Jewish terrorist organization, he tried to place a bomb in the car of Dr. Ahmed Natshe, a political figure in Hebron. A barking dog frightened Hever and his accomplices, however, and they hid the bomb. It was discovered later on and became one of the clues that enabled the Shin Bet security service to uncover the Jewish Underground. Hever was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to 11 months in prison. Like all the refugees of the Underground, he moved towards the center in the wake of his experience. As a young man, Hever held extremely radical views about the Arabs but after his prison term, he abandoned the path of violence and embarked on a career as a functionary with close ties to the authorities.
About a year after Hever became Amana's general secretary, Ariel Sharon was appointed housing minister (in the government of Yitzhak Shamir). The Sharon-Hever alignment paid off for the settlements, which underwent a building boom in this period (1990-1992). Sharon, given a free hand to build housing for the large influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, used the opportunity to beef up the settlements as well. He and Hever found a common language: both viewed themselves as men of action who had nothing but scorn for officials, bureaucrats, legal experts and the like.
Under Sharon's stewardship, Amana engaged in a major building drive, which would make the settlements an irreversible fact of life. The warm relationship between Sharon and Hever was unbroken. Even during the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, when the settlers felt that Prime Minister Sharon had stabbed them in the back, Hever alone remained in constant touch with him. He told friends that his approach was: Whatever can be attained, can be; and what cannot, cannot.
In short, Hever is an extreme pragmatist. He will not shun anyone on ideological or moral grounds. Everything is measured in terms of what can be achieved for the benefit of the settlement project. In this sense he is from the old school: he believes the border will run along the line reached by the plow. In contrast to Naftali Bennett, the leader of Habayit Hayehudi and a minister in the new government, Hever does not believe that the battle for Judea and Samaria will be decided by public diplomacy, boutique wineries and Facebook "likes," but solely by construction on the ground. Every home that is built, even if illegally, will force the government to hold onto one more slice of the Land of Israel.
Only one thing is ideological from Hever's point of view: boycotting the media. He never gives interviews, never comments on reports, and he attributes no importance to what's written about him. By chance I met him three years ago, when the Yesha Council of settlements organized a briefing for correspondents to mark Rosh Hashanah, in which the icing on the cake was a meeting with Hever - off the record, of course. The event was held in a large tent in the Jordan Rift Valley, with external catering and a host who dressed up as the patriarch Abraham. Hever arrived late and was perplexed by the event. He was as silent as a hilltop youth during a Shin Bet interrogation, and left after a short time.
Absurdly, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip actually strengthened his status in Yesha. The evacuation was the fault line between the old generation of activists, who wanted to square the circle - to protest the evacuation of Gush Katif but not dismantle the state - and the young people, who were ready to lay down their lives for the settlements. The evacuation set in motion a process to replace the leadership.
The veteran Yesha Council heads left the scene and were succeeded by a new generation. The new leadership was inexperienced, and Hever plied them with his charm, stories, budgets and political savvy. As always, he remained behind the scenes, piloting the settlement enterprise with a sure hand.
In addition to Hever's connections, the source of his strength is money. He is a modest person, usually attired in a simple shirt and sandals, and his thin figure reflects that he is not a glutton. Instead, the money from his financial empire is invested in illegal construction.
Sources close to Amana say that only Hever and his loyal right-hand man, Moshe Yogev (the organization's treasurer) know what goes on in the organization's accounts. Amana is estimated to have a turnover of some NIS 100 million a year.
The big money lies in "Amana dues." Every person who lives in an Amana settlement, of which there are about 80 (depending on how the outposts are counted), pays dues ranging from NIS 30 to NIS 43 a month. The cooperative collects the money from every person who resides in an Amana settlement, irrespective of the size of his home, and transfers the funds to Amana.
Many settlers are disgruntled about this arrangement, as Amana gives them nothing other than vague "settlement development" services. For the concrete services - education, trash collection, upkeep and so forth -the settlers pay local taxes and property taxes. The Amana dues- which amount to some NIS 5 million a year -maintain the construction apparatus and ultimately nourish the illegal activity. When settlers ask "Where is the money?" they are told that it's a levy for the development of the Land of Israel.
A source close to Amana explains how it works. In the wake of the report drawn up in 2005 by attorney Talia Sasson about the illegal outposts, and a series of directives issued in its wake by the then attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, illegal construction in the West Bank no longer receives state funding as it did in the past. Regular contractors rarely take on illegal projects. There is only a small profit margin in these small projects to begin with, and with the added threat of demolition by the Civil Administration, most contractors fear they will lose money and therefore shy away from them. The breach is filled by Amana's subsidiary, Binyanei Bar Amana, which manages the projects on a not-for-profit basis.
No credit is available in these circumstances, but Amana's deep pockets underwrite the housing projects. On the rare occasions in which the Civil Administration demolishes buildings - as in the case of nine houses in the Amona outpost, in 2006 - Amana refunds the buyers. Amana also has the economic wherewithal to ride out stalled projects. In the past two years, the High Court of Justice has issued a number of injunctions against construction in the wake of petitions submitted about allegedly illegal building.
Cases in point are Neve Tzuf, Shiloh and Ofra. Ofra involves a large-scale project with dozens of residential units which was halted midway through construction, in 2012. The skeletons of the buildings stand empty at the entrance to the veteran settlement, and Amana is losing millions of shekels on the project.
Amana also serves as a bank for settlement purposes. The society has a fund called Yahad (Together), which offers low-interest loans of up to NIS 85,000 to add another residential unit to an existing house. This is a quick way to increase the number of residents in settlements without having to resort to a bank, which will not provide credit unless it sees official building permits. According to Amana, 500 apartments had been built through the fund by 2012,and loans were being offered for an additional 200.
The money also makes it possible for Amana to acquire power within the settlement movement as well. It has absolute control of the heads of the West Bank councils. Although Amana is the "settlement arm" of the Yesha Council, the latter actually owes Amana a great deal of money. After the disengagement, the Yesha Council found itself with a deficit of NIS 40 million, in loans it took from banks. Fund-raising was hampered by the damage done to the Yesha Council brand during the disengagement. Hever came to the rescue. The council's budget is made up of funds transferred by the West Bank councils, along with NIS 1.6 million received each year from Amana. Hever gave the Yesha Council NIS 24 million in cash to pay off the debt. Instead of the loan being repaid, Amana will not transfer the annual sum. The society would appear to be rolling in money.
Minimizing the risks
Everyone who is even superficially acquainted with the events in the territories is aware of the deep involvement of Hever and Amana in illegal construction. The society doesn't go out of its way to hide this. On the contrary: in a (Hebrew) promotional clip available on YouTube entitled "East Shiloh Settlements" -the "settlements" are actually a series of outposts adjacent to Shiloh - the residents smile and describe how they build without permits. "Recently, many homes are being built on the hills.
Sometimes it's rough going, but you can see the results," a person playing the part of an Amana representative says in the clip. Another, with a boy sitting in his lap and a virginal landscape in the background, takes up the story: "But there are always surprises and gifts along the way. Sometimes you start to build and straightaway get a stop-construction note. Then comes another small gift of a demolition order."
Others add, "There were concerns that the trucks would be stopped, so work is done at night and on Fridays, and there are ploys to minimize the risks. Occasionally all kinds of visits take place by all kinds of people to check that everything is in order ... Without the difficulties, it wouldn't be fun."
Why, then, instead of chasing the wind in the hills, doesn't the state launch a criminal investigation against Amana? Our investigation shows that both the
State Prosecutor's Office and the Israel Police considered criminal action against Amana several times. However, on each occasion they were warmly received by Amana, like an old family friend. Basic investigative actions, such as searching the society's offices, questioning its officials or using undercover tactics, were not undertaken.
The investigative files relating to Amana show that this was not routine sloppiness. The law enforcement authorities apparently don't want to touch this hot potato, unless forced into it by the High Court of Justice.
The only time the state seemed truly intent on taking concrete action was in 2005. Documents made available to Haaretz show that in November of that year, following a complaint submitted by the Peace Now group, the then deputy state prosecutor for special tasks, Shai Nitzan, wrote the following to the legal adviser of the Judea and Samaria Region: "Attached is a letter from Mr. Dror Etkes on behalf of the Peace Now movement concerning activity by the Amana movement and its subsidiary, Binyanei Bar Amana, which builds and sells homes in the Judea and Samaria Region in unauthorized outposts.
"The letter claims that the construction is being done illegally. We would be grateful if you could look into this. To begin with, we wish to know what the authorities know about this, [and] what steps the authorities have taken to prevent the violation of the law and to put a stop to the construction. We also request your response to the demand that an investigation be undertaken."
The office of the legal adviser of the Judea and Samaria Region, which is a military body subordinate to the Military Advocate General's office, replied, "We are not in possession of full information concerning the Amana corporation. At the same time, we wish to note that the society's general-secretary, Mr. Ze'ev Hever, appears from time to time before the supervision subcommittee. In the discussions in which he has taken part, he asked the committee to refrain from implementing demolition orders, based on various claims that he intends to take action to legalize the houses, purchase land, etc.
"Information about the movement's activity, in contexts relevant to planning and construction, may be gleaned from allegations that were put forward within the framework of various petitions. In regard to your question about the possibility of launching legal proceedings, it should be noted that the supervision unit has submitted complaints to the Israel Police in many past cases. It would appear that having the police deepen its investigations into illegal construction could provide a response, if only partial, to the violations of the law in this sphere."
The police proceeded lethargically, but in February 2007 the decision was made to launch a criminal investigation. The obvious first step was to visit Amana's website, on which the society itself talks about its illegal construction. The investigators did just that and located all the outposts in which Amana was offering homes for sale. One police officer, Itzik Weizmann, even called Amana's customer-service center to ask for material to be sent to him, supposedly for a relative who lived abroad and was looking for a home. A week later, he received an envelope with information about (illegal) building options in various places: Ehyeh, Shvut Rachel, Givat Harel, Shiloh, Amona. However, the police did not take the seemingly logical step of raiding Amana's offices.
Another example of the investigators' negligence relates to Amona. In 2004-2005, the society built nine homes on privately owned Palestinian property in the Amona outpost. Their demolition, on February 1, 2006, deteriorated into the most serious clash to date between settlers and the security forces. The investigators tried to determine whether Amana was responsible for the illegal construction.
They reexamined an investigative file from 2004 about illegal building in Amona, which had been closed because the police were unable to discover the identity of the home owners. They went through the minutes of the army's subcommittee for supervision and spoke to officers in the Civil Administration. At the end of all this, investigator Moshe Madyuni wrote: "It should be noted that no mention at all was found of the Amana movement or about the Binyanei Bar Amana company in the documents contained in the files about illegal construction, including the minutes of the subcommittees' meetings."
However, the investigators from the Judea and Samaria District did not think of examining the petitions that were filed in the High Court of Justice on this subject. In petition number 1019/06, Binyanei Bar Amana requests that the residential units in its ownership not be demolished. At this stage, after the police central unit "had a hard time" finding illegal construction, the authorities decided to abandon the big investigation and focus on four homes that were built without a permit in the settlement of Psagot, on land that had been seized for military purposes.
Investigation by phone
Until October 1979, the practice was to seize Palestinian-owned land by issuing military orders stating that the land was needed for "security purposes," and then to build settlements on that land. The High Court of Justice put a stop to that. To this day, legal experts are divided about what to do with the land that was seized before the High Court ruling. Be that as it may, no building permits were issued. It is not clear from the investigative file why the large-scale investigation was dropped in favor of focusing on just the four residential units.
In May 2007, the investigators began to probe the situation in Psagot, which is situated north of Jerusalem, near Ramallah. On May 10, the investigators met with Rami Ziv, a senior officer in the Civil Administration's supervision unit. According to a memorandum written by the investigators, Ziv told them he intended to point out the illegal buildings. "Ziv requested that we should not take the photographs while he was with us and was pointing out [the buildings], but should do so only afterward, in order not to harm his ties and working relations with the residents of the settlement," the memorandum states.
"Rami was also asked to give testimony in the police station after pointing out [the buildings], concerning the processes of the illegal construction of the buildings he pointed out. Rami says that at this stage he doesn't wish to give testimony, it is unnecessary." Ziv, it should be noted, is part of the law-enforcement system.
Ziv was not the only beneficiary of this gentle, cautious behavior. A few days later, the investigators summoned several people - the contractor and a few employees of the Mateh Binyamin regional council - with the aim of launching the investigation. One of the memorandums in the file states: "On May 17, 2007, Mazal Ankonina, the head of the bureau of the [Judea and Samaria] district chief [at the time, Maj. Gen. Shlomi Katbi], called my office to tell me that the four people who were summoned to the investigation had spoken with the district chief and had arranged to come after the holiday."
During the investigation, one of the settlers linked Amana to the project and said he had paid money to the society. An employee in the office of Dinai Ornstein, the regional council's engineer, was asked about the units in question and told the investigators "to take it up with Amana."
At this point - after all the checks, probes and information compilation - the critical moment arrived. The police had laid a trap around Hever. All that was necessary was to summon him for questioning, confront him with the facts and get his account of events. On July 14, 2008, investigator Ezra Ishran called Hever on the telephone. "I spoke with him about the four residential units that were built illegally in Psagot," Ishran wrote in a memorandum. "He says he knows about this construction, but that Amana never had anything to do with it. He was told that we have a statement from an occupant who gave a different account. [Hever] ruled this out and promised to look into the matter again, and provide a reasoned and responsible answer within a few days."
That was the end of the investigation into Amana. Following two years of meetings and inquiries, all it took was a short phone call with Hever to clear Amana and move on. The police did not bother to conduct a search, collect documents or even to meet with Hever face to face. A few days later, the police went on questioning the homeowners, but consistently ignored other puzzling matters that came up in the investigation - each of which in itself would probably merit a criminal investigation.
A case in point is the mortgages. It is impossible to get a mortgage for an illegally built home. The Land Registry Office does not exist in the territories; instead, there is "authorization" from the World Zionist Organization. To deceive the mortgage banks, homes are registered as though they exist on land that is legally available for construction, whereas in practice they are located elsewhere. In this case, too, Ishran, who visited the WZO offices, was told by the properties department that the units were not located on the plots allocated by the WZO but at a distance of 350 meters from them.
In a memorandum dated September 20, 2008, Ishran noted that he had spoken with the engineer of the Mateh Binyamin regional council, Ishai Ben-Shushan. "The latter was asked to send a blank document of approval in principle [for construction] and promised to do so. To my question, 'Why provide approval in principle from the council if there is no building permit?' he replied: 'To get a mortgage.'"
In other words, the council's engineer apparently confirmed to the police that the council customarily issues fictitious building permits so that the occupants can bypass the requirement for a permit, deceive the bank and obtain a mortgage. This is known as receiving something fraudulently and falsifying corporate documents. Instead of sending a police van to the council's offices and investigating the apparent defrauding of banks, Ishran wrote a memorandum, which was duly archived along with the whole file.
The explanation for this behavior can be found in subsequent case developments. In fact, the police thought that an indictment was warranted - if not against Hever, then at least against the former secretary of the Psagot village, Amichai Greenwald. In internal meetings with representatives of the State Prosecutor's Office, the police representative said the case was of great interest. It was the tip of the iceberg of illegal construction in the territories, "for which no one pays the penalty."
The office of the Jerusalem District Prosecutor pondered the matter. The attorneys knew that the case was a political bombshell, as it would be the first criminal indictment for illegal construction in the territories. They concluded that the suspicions which had been investigated - trespassing and illegal construction - did not justify the political fallout. Accordingly, Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan closed the case for lack of evidence.
Hever also figured prominently in another investigation conducted by the Judea and Samaria District, this one about illegal construction in the Ulpana neighborhood of the veteran settlement of Beit El. Last November, the state demolished five buildings, containing 30 apartments, that had been built on privately owned Palestinian land in Beit El. At the time, it seemed as though this event might also demolish the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - until he devised a compromise under which Beit El was granted permission to build hundreds of new homes as compensation.
The police began investigating the illegal construction in Beit El back in 2008, in the wake of a complaint filed by the owners of the land and Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights.
Here, too, the police should have had it easy. Land registration records show that the land belongs to Palestinians, as the owners testified to the police. The homes were an incontrovertible fact, along with the absence of building permits. Yoel Tzur, a veteran settler activist and CEO of the Beit El Yeshiva Center - the company that built the homes - told investigators that he had received one of the plots from Amana, which had purchased it years earlier. The police team discovered that the purchase papers were forged. Here, too, the way was clear for an investigation of Hever.
Once more, though, the police treated him with kid gloves. Hever was summoned to testify as a witness, not a suspect. In his testimony, given in June 2009, Hever stated, "I deal with the development of settlements throughout the country. Similarly, the Amana movement, which I head, also deals with the settlement of Beit El and was involved in purchasing land from Palestinians for the purpose of building in Beit El."
In regard to the alleged transaction, he said, "It bogged down. It did not move ahead. The original contract remained in the safe and we were left with serious disappointment."
The investigators pressed him: "If so, how did homes come to be built on the land?" At this point Hever came down with amnesia. The man who controls 80 settlements and knows every detail about every outpost, and is acquainted with every official in the Civil Administration, lost his memory. He didn't remember whether he had given Tzur "a green light" to build, and didn't remember "whether anyone had even asked me about starting to build." He added, "I did not find any agreement between Amana and Yoel Tzur." Again, the police left it there, without questioning others in Amana or searching the society's offices for relevant documents.
The state really does not have to go out of its way to examine where Amana engages in illegal construction: the society itself often admits to the Supreme Court that it is behind illegal building. This was the case in 2004, for example, when Amana filed a petition to the High Court of Justice against the demolition of the Givat Assaf outpost, stating that it had built the houses. The court rejected Amana's arguments against the military order to demolish the buildings, but the Civil Administration has yet to demolish them.
In another case, Amana went to court over the nine homes built in Ofra on privately owned land - this case is still pending in the High Court of Justice. The same situation repeated itself in the case concerning the Migron outpost. But none of this has induced the police to investigate.
The Ofra case vividly illustrates Amana's pattern of behavior. The nine units were built in 2008 without permits and on land owned by Palestinians. In its response, the state declared that the entire settlement of Ofra has no building permits and that the fate of the nine units will be decided together with the fate of Ofra itself in a future political agreement with the Palestinians.
At the same time, the state told the court that the defense minister had issued an order to enforce the law henceforth in regard to all the planning and building violations in Ofra. The residents were informed that the policy is to enforce the law. A year later, nothing remained of the state's promise. Construction had begun on dozens of residential units. The court ordered the work to be stopped only in the wake of a petition filed by the Palestinian owners of the land. However, the partially built structures were not demolished.
And, with the state prosecution reluctant, it is the justices of the Supreme Court who urge the investigation of illegal construction. Still, two investigations against Amana were launched in the past two years. In petitions to the High Court of Justice, Peace Now asked the court to enforce the planning and building laws, but also to instruct the attorney general to launch a criminal investigation. In 2012, the attorney general ordered two such investigations - one in Shiloh, the other in Neve Tzuf. They have been underway for more than a year.
Despite the headache that Hever's outposts cause the state authorities, his power seems to be on the rise. The state itself hires Amana to implement various projects, and the society's profits are plowed back into illegal construction. At the moment, for example, Binyanei Bar Amana is building homes in Katzrin (in the Golan Heights).
Since the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements, Amana has won several tenders issued by the state to build and manage communities for the evacuees, mainly in the south of the country. In 2011, Amana entered through the front door of the tender: together with the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, the society established a directorate to organize settlement groups in those two regions. The indefatigable Pinhas Wallerstein, formerly the director general of the Yesha Council, started to work on organizing the settlement groups.
The projects undertaken in "Little Israel" - the settlers' term for the area inside the Green Line - are just one example of the magical powers Hever wields on the state authorities. "Zambish is king," a middle-ranking government official said incisively. His connections are endlessly ramified. He has direct access to officials and ministers throughout the government. Nor are his ties confined to just one political camp. As soon as Tzipi Livni was appointed justice minister, she met with Hever and with another leading settler activist, Dani Dayan, in the Knesset. As the minister in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, Livni should be in opposition to Hever, whose aim is to build as many homes as possible in the West Bank in order to torpedo the negotiations.
Hever knows all the ins and outs of the system, and is an expert in exploiting every crack and loophole, and all the intricacies of the laws and regulations. His motto, as he told his colleagues in a gathering in Ofra last year, is to work "with effort, with devotion, with thought and also with guile." For example, the Haaretz investigation reveals that Amana, in contrast to all other entrepreneurs, does not pay a purchase tax on the homes it sells. Although Amana sells homes like any other company, one of Hever's brilliant strokes was to classify it as "settling the lands."
In the final analysis, Amana does not have land of its own. It receives land - in the best case, from the land settlement department of the WZO, which receives it from the Civil Administration. In other cases, construction takes place on land owned by Palestinians. According to Amana, it does not own the land but only safeguards it for others (a housing company) and is therefore exempt from paying taxes. The result is to reduce building costs, which are relatively low.
Thus Hever is miraculously able to evade paying both the criminal cost of his activity and its economic cost as well. In Migron, the mobile homes belonged to Amana. When Migron was evacuated, in September 2012, the Civil Administration should either have destroyed the trailers or taken them to the site in nearby Beit El where all the equipment used in illegal construction is stored - from clay pots sold on roadside stands erected without permits, to tractors. The owner must pay NIS 10,000 for the release of each mobile home, to cover the state's haulage costs. But as part of the agreement for the quiet evacuation of Migron, Hever organized himself another small gift: instead of the state demolishing the mobile homes, they were moved to a nearby lot at the state's expense and then taken elsewhere. Hever thus saved NIS 500,000, thanks to the generosity of Defense Ministry officials.
Hever actually leases some of the mobile homes from the state. The Haaretz investigation finds that Amana does not pay the state the requisite leasing fee of NIS 300 a month per mobile home. It's a profitable business: Amana rents the trailers for NIS 800 to NIS 1,000 a month. A year ago, the Housing and Construction Ministry decided that the time had come for Amana to start paying the fees for the 400 mobile homes it has in its safekeeping. Hever came up with an amazing proposal: he would obtain budgetary allocations for the ministry's rural construction directorate, and in return the ministry would write off the debt run up for the leasing fee. Osnat Kimchi, the directorate's head, turned down the offer. Talks for the payment of the debt are still ongoing.
There is one group that has been on Ze'ev Hever's case in recent years: the far right. Since the Gaza disengagement in 2005, he has been like a red rag for them. In their view, the disengagement proved that a home more or less in the Land of Israel is no more than five minutes work for a bulldozer. The way to settle the land, they say, is by deterring the authorities. Compromises are not an option. If the state sees that the settlers are pliant when it comes to the evacuation of one home, it will go ahead and raze a whole settlement.
In recent years, demonstrations against Hever were held outside his home in Kiryat Arba, until finally he decided to move to the Givat Ha'avot outpost. There, too, the homes were built without permits and in part on land privately owned by Palestinians.
Last year, during the struggle over the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El, a few youngsters punctured the tires of Hever's car and poured paint on the windshield while he was closeted with then Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, working out the terms of the evacuation compromise. Afterward, a meeting in support of Hever was held at which he received wall-to-wall support for his leadership in the building of homes for settlers.
However, he is not welcome in the outposts. The Migron settlers stopped paying Amana dues even before the evacuation. As for Amona, the next outpost in line for demolition - it was established at the site of the outpost demolished in 2006 and the state has until July 15 to raze it - the settlers there informed him and the Yesha Council that they would make all the necessary decisions themselves.
A spokesperson for Justice Minister Tzipi Livni stated: "Since it was decided that Livni would be appointed justice minister, she has met twice with representatives of the settlers - among them Dani Dayan, Avi Roeh and Ze'ev Hever - to discuss the 'price tag' phenomenon [referring to harassment of Palestinians by settlers], based on an understanding that they too - the settlers' leaders - view the phenomenon as unacceptable and as a danger to democracy. The minister of justice will meet with whoever she sees fit in order to do her job."
The State Prosecutor's Office: "The work of the State Prosecutor's Office is not guided by political considerations. As such, no one is immune from criminal proceedings. All the cases that were closed in the past were closed only for substantive reasons. The attorney general held several discussions about applying criminal law to planning and building violations in Judea and Samaria. To enhance enforcement in this sphere, he recommended that the defense minister upgrade the unit that supervises construction in Judea and Samaria and grant it the powers and the means necessary to investigate violations of this kind.
"The Defense Ministry informed the Justice Ministry that the attorney general's recommendation was being examined, and that the possibility was being considered to reinforce the supervision unit of the Civil Administration and to train its personnel to take the suggested action. A complaint that was conveyed to the Justice Ministry concerning construction being carried out by Amana is under examination at this stage."
The Judea and Samaria District of the Israel Police: "Under the law, responsibility for investigating and dealing with the enforcement of the building laws in the region rests solely with the Civil Administration in the Judea and Samaria Region. Concerning the investigation mentioned, pursuant to the request of prosecutor Shai Nitzan - who at the time was in charge of special tasks - to conduct an examination, file number 3581/06 was opened in connection with a violation of a lawful order and was handled by the Judea and Samaria District's central unit. The case was closed in February 2010 by the State Prosecutor's Office for lack of evidence."
The National Fraud Investigations Unit stated: "The investigations that were mentioned are still being conducted by the NFIU, and therefore we do not intend to comment on details concerning them."
A spokesperson for the Housing and Construction Ministry stated: "There are about 400 structures that are located in different settlements. There is no agreement between Amana and/or other groups concerning the use of the structures and payment for them. A ministerial team, consisting of representatives from the accountancy unit, the legal department and the professional branch, handles arrangements in this regard with regional councils, settlements and also with the Amana movement as a land-settlement movement.
"No negotiations are held. An agreement is signed with the regional councils in whose area the structures are located, and they are the only bodies with which the ministry signs agreements. When the agreement is concluded, fees will be paid for the use of the structures as decided by the ministerial team, together with the Finance Ministry. The claim made concerning Mr. Ze'ev Hever is completely unfounded."
Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer, in response to the decision not to deal with the complaint submitted by his movement: "A company that is involved up to its neck in illegal construction, like Amana, would not survive for one day within Israel, and its senior personnel would long since have been hauled into court. However, when the Green Line is crossed, construction offenses are accepted with understanding, police investigations are merely for the record, and the leaders of the outposts emerge unscathed.
"A combination of ideology and greed, along with a blind-eye policy by the authorities, has given rise to a whole industry of the illegal construction of residential units in the settlements and the settler outposts. Instead of punishing and trying the lawbreakers, the government of Israel protects them, collaborates with them and even grants them large-scale compensation."
Israel's West Bank construction policy: In thrall to settlers - not justice
The government is now on its fourth policy to combat illegal construction in the West Bank. None has yet to be implemented, and this one won't be any different.
by Chaim Levinson 11 February 2014 Haaretz
In November 2008, the then head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai (now the coordinator of government activities in the territories), presented an affidavit on the priorities for demolishing illegal construction in the West Bank.
The goal was to head off a High Court of Justice petition concerning construction in the illegal outposts of Kiryat Hayovel and Haresha. To do so, a plan had to be presented that would make it look as if there was logic behind the chaos. The first step was to implement court orders, and the second was tackling new construction. Third came construction on private property.
It should be clear that nothing in the affidavit was actually implemented.
In 2011, in response to a different High Court petition, a new policy was formulated. Whatever illegal construction was on private property would be demolished, and whatever was on other land would be legalized.
The state later came up with a new policy in response to further High Court petitions: Whatever was on private property and someone had filed a lawsuit against would be demolished, and everything else would remain. In other words, for the state to do a favor and demolish a house without a permit, there needed to be a Palestinian property owner who would petition the High Court – and only then would the state be ready to move.
Now the state has a new policy, its fourth. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is proud of a letter he forced out of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, in which he states that all new construction will be demolished before it is occupied.
It is clear that nothing of this sort will happen. The only question is whether Ya’alon and Weinstein are fooling themselves, or us.
A short trip to the territories on Sunday revealed the widespread illegal construction. There is nowhere that is not being built upon. Inspectors from the Civil Administration appear, issue demolition orders and take pictures. The chances of anything being destroyed are zero.
The settlers long ago understood that the threat of demolition is a joke. In 2008, Palestinian landowners and the NGO Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights - petitioned the High Court to demolish nine homes without permits, built on privately owned land in Ofra (in the northern West Bank). The state said the houses would not be demolished but that from then on, they would be especially strict in enforcing the planning and building laws in the settlement. Since then, Amana – the construction arm of the settlement movement, headed by Ze’ev Hever – has started construction of a new neighborhood there, with dozens of housing units. Instead of demolishing houses, the state instead promised to issue Hever with building permits. Twenty-five other building violations weren’t dealt with.
We cannot expect anything from the Civil Administration. When Hever – the greatest of construction law violators – runs around freely in the Civil Administration and brings gifts to the departing heads of the Civil Administration, the message is passed on to the inspectors below. Imagine a major crime boss being invited for a toast in the offices of the fraud squad. The political leadership is being held captive by the settlers.
Last week, the Civil Administration demolished the home of Sagi Kreizler, near the illegal outpost of Kida. The major Likud vote contractors in the West Bank immediately announced their cancelation of support for Ya’alon; he, for his part, invited them for a meeting. Kreizler has justifiable complaints about the destruction of his home – there are others higher up the priority list. But if that is the response to just one house being demolished, imagine what the response will be to the demolition of many more homes.
The alternative to demolition is criminal proceedings, like those against criminals within Israel. Here, the ball is firmly in Weinstein’s court. For the past year and a half, he has been sending agitated letters on the matter. But such proceedings are at least two years off. Instead of ordering the police to investigate Hever and Amana, to seize documents and close down construction (the case against Hever was recently closed), Weinstein prefers to organize meetings between the heads of the police, Ya’alon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
He has also learned that it is easier to send letters than to confront powerful political interests.