The State Comptroller Report for 2003, published recently, exposes a harsh phenomenon that we have known about for a long time and has now received the validation of the highest authority in the country: The funding of illegal building and construction in the West Bank.
According to the report, between the beginning of the year 2000 and June 2003, the Housing and Construction Ministry funded construction and development projects in 33 places in the West Bank. This was done in violation of the Planning and Construction Law due either to a lack of government authorization, a lack of up-to-date planning programs or reasons related to property ownership.
The funding amounts to NIS 29.7 million. Of the 33 places which received funding, 18 are not included within the boundary of any Jewish settlement. In addition, the Housing and Construction Ministry funded the setting-up of infrastructure in places where the Civil Administration had already issued demolishing orders.
The State Comptroller Report states that none of the relevant state authorities - the Housing and Construction Ministry, the Internal Affairs Ministry and the Defense Minister’s aide responsible for settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - requested the local authorities in the West Bank to present building permits before transferring funds to them.
The State Comptroller concludes his finding by saying, “an examination of the funding the Housing and Construction Ministry gives to building and development projects in the West Bank’s local authorities shows that the ministry invests state resources in illegal construction, in projects that lack the required building permits, in places that have no authorized zoning plans and in places that the government never permitted be settled. These findings should be looked upon with a severe eye.”
Indeed, all these are all very serious violations. However, they seem even worst when we are reminded that in the same period of time, the state demolished 625 homes of Arabs residing in the same areas because they did not hold the required building permits. In other words, the state allows Jews to violate laws of building and construction and punishes Arabs, who live nearby, when they commit the same violations.
To emphasis this matter, we state that this phenomena stems from a government policy that discriminates against people because of their race. When Arabs are forbidden to do what Jews are allowed, when Arab’s homes are demolished because they lack permits while at the same time the state helps Jews build homes without those same permits, then we must say - as hard as it may be for a Jew to say - that this is a clear case of racial discrimination.
What we are talking about is the state’s policy of racism, and not a racial action conducted by law breakers. One cannot say these actions are exceptional, a ‘slip’ or marginal. Several government offices are involved in this phenomenon. The army itself was dragged into this crime through the Civil Administration and the Coordinator of Activities in the occupied territories.
The findings of the report show us once again the close cooperation between the government and the settlers. The government backs the settlers politically, financially and provides them with security; it is hard to tell who pushes whom, whether the government motivates the settlers or the settlers motivate the government.
This government, which is headed by the architect of the West Bank settlements, Ariel Sharon, and has placed a right-wing politician like Effi Eitam as head of the Housing and Construction Ministry, sees the settlers not only as partners but as the long arm which carries out actions that the government cannot execute publicly.
What the State Comptroller did not write in his report is that the issue at stake extends beyond illegal funding; it is an illegal deed that is conducted in full accordance with the state, which sends the settlers to conduct acts the government cannot do because of its fear from the reaction of the Americans.
The report shows once again, what was already known long ago, that the government is the biggest lawbreaker in the county when it comes to appropriating lands and violating the planning and building laws. When it comes to the interests of the settlers, no one enforces the law.
The state has recently decided to set up a new committee to enforce the planning and building laws in Israel, in light of the many cases of illegal construction by the Arab population. It will be interesting to see whether or not this new body will also enforce the law in the West Bank.
When it comes to the occupied territories, the state is willing to break the laws it has itself compiled, this in the name of some uncanny ideology. Illegal money is given out in broad daylight, with no shame and no remorse.
The State Comptroller Report shows that what has long ago become a custom in the occupied territories is starting to become the norm also in the heart of the state institutions. Corruption is spreading like fire. The distorted norms prevailing in the occupied territories know no ‘green lines’. If stealing Arab lands is allowed, why should stealing state funds be forbidden? The government offices involved in large-scale confiscation of Arab lands have begun stealing money from the state treasury in the name of the same ideology. As far as they are concerned, breaking the law is a small price to pay when the aim is settling the Land of Israel.
The report demonstrated once again, that the settlers are the top priority of the Housing and Construction Ministry; this is at the expense of the people living in the poor city neighborhoods and in development towns. At a time when the ministry has failed in carrying out its lawful obligation to grant aid to those who are entitled to public housing, and the tens of thousands of people living in poverty who wait for a housing solution or assistance in paying rent; at a time when the ministry drastically cut the budgets for assisting the elderly, the homeless, the single parents, etc. - at such a time the Housing Ministry gives almost NIS 30 million to the settlers.
If only some of this money was invested in the disadvantaged sectors, our society would look different. But the government, and in particular the Housing and Construction Minister, looks down on those disadvantaged segments of our society and warmly hugs the settlers who live at the expense of the Israeli taw payer.
The State Comptroller Report for 2003 tells us that there is nothing naïve about the settlement enterprise. It is a strategy targeted at preventing any future peace agreement. The settlers are operating under the assumption that wherever they can get their hands on, no agreement can ever be made. Knowing Israel’s political reality they know that there has yet to be a prime minister able to evacuate settlements in the West Bank. Building new settlements places a restriction on the government’s actions and prevents the possibility of a peace agreement in the future.