The EU slams Israel for illegal Jewish construction over the Green Line – but has no problem massively funding similarly illegal Palestinian construction.
It is a story of unending frustration: the Palestinian illegal takeover of Area C is in full swing and no-one’s trying to stop it. It didn’t start yesterday. The originator of the idea, former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, described already in 2009 his plan for a “creeping annexation,” by creating corridors and territorial contiguity, which will serve as the starting point for any future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. By all accounts, he seems to have succeeded.
This impression is strengthened by the fact that one of the reasons for the Palestinian success in this land grab is the massive intervention of a foreign power. In recent years, the EU has acted to implement a “humanitarian plan for the occupied Palestinian territories.” These innocent-sounding terms are a cover for active support and funding for the Palestinian illegal takeover of the plane of Mishor Edumim (E1), to the tune of hundreds of millions of Euros.
Loaded trucks under cover of darkness
Reports from the field describe how this plays out: the EU buys structures for the Palestinians from factories in Mishor Edumim. The equipment is then stored in a hangar in the al-Azariya area (Abu Dis), and from there EU representatives disperse it throughout E1. A Palestinian team goes down to the area with one of the representatives, and within a few hours entire structures are up.
Although everyone knows about these activities, it is conducted at night time to avoid unnecessary friction. Yaniv Aharoni, Land Coordinator in charge of the activities of the Forum to preserve the lands of the Edumim Bloc, experienced it himself.
One of these incidents took place on the eve of last Passover: “After years of working almost alone, recently residents of the towns volunteered to help protect the territory,” Aharoni told Mida. One of them saw a technician installing solar panels on the side of the road and called Aharoni to report. “I arrived there and identified some 20 solar panels,” and all under European sponsorship. The second incident happened on the eve of (the Israeli) Holocaust Day. A volunteer resident was driving along the road, when he saw a truck trying to sneak by without its lights on. “It was about 7 in the evening, so it was already dark.” Aharoni reported to the Civil Administration, and the truck was successfully confiscated. “There were two trucks there, we’re talking on the scale of about a million NIS. On the sides of the truck, by the way, was the description of a business for moving and selling fruits and vegetables.”
After years of following the illegal construction, alerting inspectors of the Civil Administration and submitting complaints, Aharoni is now pessimistic. His experience is that the Civil Administration and government authorities in charge of following and barring the illegal building are simply not functioning. “I don’t believe they’ll do it,” he told Mida. For instance, Aharoni described how over the past few weeks he saw only one caravan demolished. This, he adds, in contrast to 37 others erected since January of this year, of which he knows.
Why wasn’t Netanyahu’s order carried out?
Mida reported on the Palestinian land grab, aided by ‘human rights organizations’, already in 2014. But there’s been a major change since then: whereas before it took real detective work to find out who was funding and aiding the land grab besides the Palestinians, today the EU flags are clear to see on the project structures for anyone who has eyes and available transportation. The plans and funding amounts can be found with a Google search. Everything’s on the table, no hiding needed.
Where is the sovereign authority? What has it done to stop all of this? The more the details of this story come out, the more the helplessness of the State of Israel is exposed.
Four months ago, the Regavim organization published a report covering the full extent of the illegal construction: between 2012-2014, the number of illegal Palestinian residential buildings had doubled from 412 to 774, not including about 200 other buildings meant for other purposes. At least 400 of them have the EU flag proudly waving above them. The number has continued to go up since then.
Shortly after the publication of the report, last February saw an incident which shook the system up a little. After years of activity and unending discussion at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the matter finally received renewed attention from the Israeli Prime Minister. This also happened only after Regavim, along with the Israel Europe Freedom Center, succeeded in getting the report published by the Daily Mail and afterwards reported by Israeli Channel 2. In the wake of this development, it was reported that Netanyahu “instructed Defense Minister Ya’alon to exercise his authority and destroy all illegal structures established by the European Union, with an emphasis on E1.”
A tour of the area shows that this order is still far from being fully carried out. To find out what exactly the relevant authorities have done on the matter, we wrote to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Here is their reply:
In the last year, orders were handed out and dozens of structures built illegally and funded by the European Union were destroyed. COGAT sent official letters to embassies and international organizations to warn them that is illegal construction takes place in Judea and Samaria through their funding, enforcement actions will be taken against them.
COGAT will continue to enforce the law on illegal building and no-one is immune from enforcement.
Like everything in life, “dozens of buildings” is a relative term. In light of the data presented by Regavim, COGAT effectively admits that it’s far from getting the whole job done. This might be why despite repeated requests, the COGAT Spokesperson’s office would not answer our request for complete data on the extent of illegal construction in the area.
More than this: in April 2014, in the wake of a directive of the Attorney General, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, then COGAT, announced that a special unit will investigate and if needed submit indictments against those responsible for illegal construction in Area C, both Jews and Palestinians. More than a year has passed, and results? Nada. In response to our query, the COGAT Spokesperson explained that “the staff work at COGAT is finished and now their budget needs to be approved at the Finance Ministry to start establishing the unit.” Bureaucracy in action.
How the bureaucracy prevents action
Just to emphasize the point, in February 2014, Regavim published another report which analyzed COGAT data, proving how out of some 35,000 illegal buildings erected by the Palestinians in Area C, as of April 2013, only 12,570 files were opened. The report also shows that between 2010-2012, 662 illegal Palestinian buildings were demolished, but only 51 of these were residential buildings. The rest were temporary affairs such as tents and sties.
On the other side of it, at the end of 2012, the Prime Minister declared his intention to build thousands of housing units in East Jerusalem and in E1. The international outrage was not long in coming: the White House and various European countries were quick to condemn and warn of “the decision which harms the attempt to facilitate talks with the Palestinians.”
This, of course, as opposed to the massive European funding of Palestinian buildings, establishing unilateral facts on the ground, which apparently never harms such attempts. In any event, the reality on the ground shows that Netanyahu folded. Talks with residents shows that there has been no expansion of the settlement of Kfar Edumim. The few building permits that were granted were for filling in space within the town—and they’re also stuck in the bureaucratic machine. The only development on this front took place recently in the town of Nofei Prat, there 34 lots were approved for construction in the framework of the “Kfar Edumim VI” project.
“COGAT isn’t motivated to do its job,” Aharoni complains. “You could see the inspector in charge of the area about once every two months. On the one hand, he really does have a huge area to cover—about 18,000 dunams. On other hand, I would expect more assistance and more responsibility from him. He’s the one who ends up coming anyway.” Just in the beginning of this week, for instance, Aharoni identified a tent which had been converted into a structure. “I picked up the phone for the inspector, and it was clear to me that I would not get a serious answer. But when I understand that this is something that is worthy of serious intervention, then I also know how to apply pressure from other directions.”
Aharoni relates how, in order to breach the wall of bureaucracy, he has to apply pressure up on high. “Not once and not twice, I went to the home of MK Motti Yogev [then Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – E.G.] to send down an order to confiscate equipment. The EU would bring in construction tents of 10×12 meters and fences. Every such project is a matter of hundreds of thousands of shekels. I needed to apply political pressure so that Mister Marko ben Shabbat [Head of the Inspectorate at COGAT – E.G.] should decide that he’ll come to confiscate the equipment. We sit at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, show the materials and force COGAT to act. If we weren’t there, they wouldn’t do it.”
COGAT is not the only body that stalls enforcement. It is merely the first link in a chain of an obscuratanist bureaucracy.
Here’s the scenario which repeats itself almost to a T every time: even when COGAT identifies an illegal structure and issues orders to cease work or to demolish them, the discussion goes to the Supervision Subcommittee. Then the Palestinians recruit their lawyer, often Adv. Shlomo Lecker, who appeals to the Supreme Court which issues an interim order. Months pass, and appeals from all sides pile up on the judge’s desk. At this point, sometimes on the Supreme Court’s initiative and sometimes on the initiative of State representatives themselves, a long drawn it discussion begins on the subject of “finding suitable alternatives for the Bedouin.” Why is this the State’s responsibility? God knows. Thus years can pass, Palestinian construction carries on and the structures in question remain standing.
Cut off the EU pipeline
Back to the EU. When it comes to the diplomatic arena, the Foreign Ministry is pretty handicapped. The status of Area C is disputed in international law, and other serious considerations—such as high-level economic and security cooperation—doesn’t allow Israel to make too much of a stink about the EU’s funding to the Palestinian legal violations. We should also note that the Foreign Ministry doesn’t create policy, but works within the framework established by the government. In this context, lest there be any doubt, even the annexation of Area C would not have any meaning for the world since it would be done unilaterally. All Israeli diplomats have left is to clarify to European diplomats what Israeli law says and to emphasize that their actions are not acceptable to the State of Israel.
But there are those who are working within this vacuum. Alongside Regavim is the Israel Europe Freedom Center, which has succeeded in advancing moves to stop the EU funding of Palestinian activity in Area C among MPs in Brussels, Strassburg, Berlin and in the European Parliament. Just yesterday they scored a success, when their report was submitted to the Parliament’s Defense Committee. In light of this activity, there is already an awakening among many dozens of MEPs, who openly speak of how EU tax money is being used to harm the sovereignty of a foreign country.
“‘Harming the sovereignty of a neighboring country, especially an ally, is unacceptable’, these are the words used yesterday by MEP Mario Borghezio,” Wilhelm Roth, head of the Israel Europe Freedom Center, told Mida. “This is how he proved that there is an advantage in what we at the Center are trying to do. Europe is not doomed, we just need to learn how to speak ‘European’ with them. The step today is a significant step towards accepting the Regavim report in the European Parliament, and thus we hope in the future to cut off the spigot of funding for illegal Palestinian construction in Mishor Edumim.”
English translation by Avi Woolf.