The Italian Connection (to illegal Bedouin settlements)

Far-left NGOs and even foreign governments are helping the Palestinians to build illegal and dangerously placed settlements in Israeli territory.

From 2009, the Palestinian Authority has been establishing its own ‘facts on the ground’, funding illegal Bedouin settlements throughout Area C · Khan al-Akhmar, an illegal Bedouin shanty-town within the territory of Kfar Edumim, tells the whole story: the failure of Israeli enforcement authorities to do their job, uninhibited violations by the Palestinians, and all with the help of foreign governments and radical left-wing groups · How did sovereignty became a matter of “picking and choosing”? And where are the law enforcement agencies?

עושים לנו בית ספר; התנחלות הבלתי-חוקית ח'אן אל-אחמר. צילום: אריק גרינשטיין
The illegal settlement Khan al-Akhmar, overlooking the highway. Photo: Eric Greenstein


Against a beautiful desert background, on the slopes of Kfar Edumim, a territory also known as E-1, is a small site known as Khan al-Akhmar. The site hugs Road no. 1, which connects East Jerualem to the Dead Sea, and in which live Palestinian Bedouin of the Jahalin tribe in a variety of tin shacks and other assorted temporary buildings.

The site is illegal. The hundreds of structures erected at Khan al-Akhmar reside within the territory of Kfar Edumim, as determined by a General’s Order. The site was built on state land in Area C, without building permits and without any contact with the relevant authorities, facts established time and again by the Israeli Supreme Court.

But this doesn’t seem to bother the Palestinian Authority, foreign governments or radical left-wing groups, which ignore the law, trample Israeli sovereignty and promote building in the area. And indeed why should it? After all, it would appear that all the relevant Israeli authorities – from the Civil Administration to the State Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General for Judaea and Samaria all the way to the Supreme Court – are doing everything they can to preserve the status quo and avoid destroying illegal Palestinian construction in the region. This passivity allows the Palestinian Authority to de facto take over Area C, and in our case the area of Mevaseret Edumim.

The Italian Job

In order to demonstrate the intentional helplessness and flouting of the law, let’s focus on another indicative case: In July 2009, members of the Jahalin tribe started to build three “ecological” structures out of mud and tires at Khan al-Akhmar. These structures were defined then and now as the local regional school, which is attended by Bedouin from all over the area (since then the school has been expanded and a number of structures added to it in violation of a court injunction, more on this below).

This project was not done with only local means: they were helped by Rabbis for Human Rights, which is proud to have helped the Jahalin break the law. More importantly, the Palestinians were helped by an Italian NGO called Vento di Terra, which has a substantial part in funding and erecting the illegal buildings. A simple tracking of the money trail raises the suspicion that the ultimate source of the funding is none other than the Italian government itself.

In brief, the Italian Foreign Ministry operates a body called the Italian Development Cooperation, which operates via NGOs all over the world as “an integral part of Italian forign policy to promote solidarity among people and full implementation of basic human rights.” This body is active in Israel, helping Palestinians by funding projects through a list of twenty NGOs. One of these is the self-same Vento di Terra. All these organizations coordinate their activities with the Italian consulate in Jerusalem (an institution different than the formal embassy in Tel Aviv), which was founded to communicate directly with the Palestinian Authority and deal with issues related to Judaea, Samaria and Gaza.

לומדים שיעורי אזרחות? בית הספר בח'אן אל-אחמר. צילומסך מערוץ היו-טיוב של אל-ג'זירה
Learning civics? The school at Khan al-Akhmar. Screenshot from the al-Jazaeera Youtube channel.


However, more than a month ago, the Consulate seems to have decided to escalate its contempt for Israeli authority, directly funding illegal construction on territory under Israeli sovereignty and not just being the go-between:

On 27 February, two trucks filled with toys and amusement rides drove to the school at Khan al-Akhmar. These trucks with their equipment were donated by the Italian Government and were even escorted by a Consulate representative. The Civilian Administration rushed to the scene and impounded the trucks. In response to ‘Mida’s query, the Administration confirmed that “this was equipment […] intended to erect a playground on state land without a permit and contrary to a Supreme Court injunction.” They wished to emphasize that “before bringing the equipment a message was passed on to the Italian consulate that this is illegal activity and they were even given the chance to act through proper channels.”

The equipment was confiscated and is in the hands of the Administration: “After confiscating the equipment, the Consulate was told that it can get it back according to the procedure which says they must pay a fine for the confiscation of equipment, and in addition sign a document promising not to return without coordinating with the proper authorities and against the law.” The Consulate rejected the offer, and the smear campaign was not long in coming, including noisy headlines describing the “cruel occupation” stealing toys from children.

How does Israel allow a formal body of a foreign government to so openly violate state law with impunity? The Foreign Ministry provided this reply:

The Civil Administration acted properly and according to law. The Italian Consulate in Jerusalem works with the Palestinian Authority and avoids working contact with the Foreign Ministry (aside from purely technical details). The diplomatic relationship is conducted via the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv, but the latter is not responsible for the Consulate. In any event, in our contacts with the Italians, we emphasized the legal basis of the Civil Administration’s actions and we stressed that the Consulate’s actions were both politically and legally problematic.

So, they issue an apologetic explanation on the legality of the Civil Administration’s actions and a comment on the “problematic” nature of the Consulate’s actions. It would be interesting to know how the Italian Foreign Ministry would react if Israel started building illegally on Italian soil with the aim of encouraging illegal immigration into its territory.

No Enforcement When it Comes to the Arabs

This is a case where the Civil Administration actually did its job. But considering that this concerns one school building among hundreds of other illegal structures, this is hardly a reason for national pride. Ovad Arad, coordinator for ‘Regavim’ in the region of Judaea and Samaria explained that this is not even the tip of the iceberg, “the administration confiscated the trucks, and now they’re happy as can be,” he said, “but in practice there are no demolitions. And when there are no demolitions, there is no deterrence; and when there’s no deterrence the Palestinian feel like the masters of the house and they can do what they want.”

According to data provided by Regavim in their annual report last year, appropriately titled “The Big Bluff,” Palestinians built about 35,000 illegal structures, but only 12,500 received the attention and formal filing of the Civil Administration. The Civil Administration presented data showing they destroyed 662 structures between 2010 and 2012, but an examination of Regavim showed that only 51 answer to the definition of a ‘residential building’, and another 47 were residential tents. In other words, they’re not dealing with the real problem.

Arad added that in practice, “the Palestinians are continuing to build, continuing to take over land and continuing to flout the Administration. If they used to work on weekends [when the inspectors don’t work – E.G.] today it’s in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day. So OK, they confiscated a truck. It’s just a drop in the ocean. Bottom line: there are no demolitions in the Arab sector, only in the Jewish sector. If they already destroy something, it’s sties, coops and sheds.”

הלחצים כבר התחילו; פרסום בעמוד הפייסבוק של 'בצלם'. צילומסך
The pressure campaign begins; published on B’tselem’s facebook page. Screenshot.


A Chronicle of Foot Dragging

The school at Khan al-Akhmar encapsulates the conduct of Israeli authorities in Area C in a nutshell. As Arad explains, “This story is the story of the whole of the Gush Edumim territory. That’s how the state conducts itself in every one of the court cases or instances when a demolition order is handed down.” It always starts with illegal building: a school is built in the territory of Kfar Edumim alongside road no. 1, where expansion of the road was planned, a plan approved in 2007 and made public in 2008. Contruction within 120 meters of the road is prohibited (by a general’s directive). Already at the end of June 2009 Administration inspectors take note of the illegal construction in the area, and begin enforcement procedures, as required by law; orders of cessation of work are procured and the building owners are ordered to appear before the subcommittee of inspection. At the end of the inquiry, it is decided to issue final orders to cease all work and demolish the structures.

Then the legal fight begins. Adv. Shlomo Laqueur, who represent the Palestinians in most cases regarding the Edumim region, submitted a request for a temporary stay of demolition. From that stage until the coming discussion meant to be held in the Supreme Court, a five year long legal battle rages between the residents of Kfar Edumim, Alon and Nofei Prat, who demand the state do its job and expel the invaders, and the Bedouin who have filed to the Supreme Court to do the exact opposite, demanding that the procedure be cancelled and even to “enact regulations which will allow procuring proper building permits” – in other words, to authorize it ex post facto.

Next comes the foot dragging, in this case in the form of “finding alternatives” for the Bedouin. On 5 November, 2009, the State informed the Supreme Court that it’s searching for alternatives for the residence of the Jahalin tribe, which “will take into account the order of priorities for carrying out demolition orders for various structures in the area, the school included.” Two years later, the State Attorney told the court that “the planning procedures for carrying out the demolition orders which are the subject of appeal have not been finished,” and that “procedures are taking place with the proper authorities.” Let’s skip a bit to April 5, 2012, when the matter was brought before then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who also demanded looking for alternatives:

The school will be relocated after a solution is found for the school’s activity for the children who are resident at the site, at an alternate site, even if temporarily, in which the children can study in the structure legally. The Defense Minister instructed the relevant authorities to act in finding an appropriate alternative location, after which they should examine implementing the alternative, in the coming months. In parallel, the Defense Minister instructed to act to prevent the expansion of illegal construction at the Khan al-Akhmar site.

Thanks to the “alternatives,” “examinations” and “talks,” the court stated that the authorities’ discretion is not beyond the reasonable,” and there is no place for intervening in their decisions and dictating priorities in enforcing building laws.

The method works and anarchy reigns

In a court discussion held in September 2002, the authorities were questioned by the judge regarding the schedule for relocating the school. For the first time since the issue began, a clear schedule was mentioned: “A few months,” said Adv. Hila Gorny, who added that “it’s hard for me to commit to a concrete date because we’re still in the middle of talks. The aim is to move the entire site including the school. The aim is that next school year [Sep. 2013 – E.G.] the school will be relocated.” Based on this statement, it appears the demolition was delayed yet again, leaving the Jewish settlements stuck with an ever-expanding mass of illegal building.

September cam, September went, and the school still stands. “Last time (the Supreme Court) limited the decision to months. Those months, passed, by an expansive interpretation, on September 2013, at the beginning of the recent school year, but they were not evacuated,” Moni Ben-Ari, one of the founders of Kfar Edumim, who is active when it comes to the Palestinian Bedouin invasion of the town’s territory, told ‘Mida’. Meantime, other testimonies provided by Jewish settlements in the area to the court indicate that the site has been expanded, along with new structures and trees.

Ben-Ari doesn’t understand how the school is allowed to continue to exist. “It’s simply intolerable. Aside from the fact that its illegal construction in the territory of Kfar Edumim,” he adds, “they throw rocks from there sometimes. They roll them on cars from the roof of the school which is above the road (no. 1)…this is complete anarchy. They also bring down flocks to the road, donkeys wandering around without supervision…you have to understand that this is a highway – it’s a deadly hazard.”

The Bedouin conduct is not spontaneous. The Palestinians are following the Fiad plan, first publicized in 2009, whose purpose is to conduct a de facto slow takeover of Area C. The emphasis on main thoroughfares is also not a coincidence – anyone who takes a ride through the area will find Khan al-Akhmars near the roads all over the place. The invasion of Area C territories, assisted by Jewish and other organizations, on the initiative and funding of the Palestinian Authority, and made possible by the State of Israel’s complete and shameful inaction.

Despite repeated attempts, the Italian Consulate did not respond to our queries. Their response will be published as soon as it is received.

English translation by Avi Woolf.

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