According to documents published by the Israeli online daily, Haaretz, illegal permits were issued retroactively for a new West Bank settlement expansion project while buildings were being constructed or even completed, near Bil’in village, in the West Bank.
The documents are related to a project of new illegal buildings in the Modi’in Illit settlement bloc that includes Matityahu East, which is being built on lands that belong to the Palestinians of the West Bank village of Bil’in near Ramallah.
Shlomo Moskovitch, Civil Administration Officer chief planner, admitted the building permits for the new buildings in Matityahu East in Modi’in Illit were issued illegally.
An eyewitness reported that the illicit construction is proceeding, despite recent instructions from the settlement’s planning and construction committee to stop the work.
Israeli online daily Haaretz reported that in another document, the project’s entrepreneur claimed that Modi’in Illit council head Yaakov Guterman promised that he will issue construction permits before the planning and construction committee dealt with the requests, as required.
The new buildings are constructed on a private owned by the villagers of Bil’in; the land was purchased by land dealers through dubious powers of attorney, then rezoned as state land and leased or sold to settlers’ building companies.
Sources at the Israeli Ministry of Justice said Monday that a "preliminary examination" conducted by the Civil Administration indicated that the illegal construction in the settlement was halted following instructions from the local planning and construction committee in Modi’in Illit.
However, a Peace Now representative who visited the site that day reported the construction was proceeding as usual.
Earlier, Israeli government informed the High Court of Justice that 750 housing units had already been built, and 520 out of them had been purchased, admitting that the project consisted of "partially illegal building."
The 1998 master plan for the Modi’in Illit area shows the private land of the Palestinian village of Bil’in included within the settlement expansion plans for the year 2020.
Documents revealed by Haaretz show the rampant illegal construction is just the tip of the iceberg in a much graver affair.
Purchasing’ the land
According to Haaretz, On June 16, 2002, attorney Moshe Glick, who represents a settlers’ association called the Society of the Foundation of the Land of Israel Midrasha Ltd. declared the following to attorney Doron Nir Zvi;
"I hereby submit this sworn statement in the place of the Mukhtar [head] of Bil’in. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Muhammad Ali Abdul-Rahman Bornat is the owner of the plot known as Bloc 2 Plot 134 in the village of Bil’in".
Glick signed another sworn statement on November 16, 2003. The new statement was aimed at explaining the strange occurrence of an Israeli attorney swearing under oath, a procedure that is parallel to sworn testimony in a court, in the place of the Mukhtar of a Palestinian village.
From the new statement it emerges that Glick never set foot on the land to which his statement relates.
"This sworn statement comes in place of a statement by the Mukhtar of the village of Bil’in, as, because of the security situation, there is a real danger to the life of any Jew who tries to enter the village of Bil’in (and needless to say especially when it is a matter of the purchase of land). Moreover, there is a prohibition by the authorities forbidding Israeli citizens to enter Areas A and B".
On the same day that Glick signed the sworn statement, and a well-known Israeli land dealer Shmuel Anav appeared before him and also signed a sworn statement pertaining to that same plot.
Anav, too, explained that the reasons it was impossible to bring an authorization by the Mukhtar are the "security situation" and the prohibition on entering areas A and B.
Anav also claimed that "the owner sold [the land] to his son and the son sold it to the Israeli Society of the Foundation."
The owner died several years ago. His son, Sami, who according to residents of Bil’in forged their signatures, was murdered in Ramallah at the beginning of 2005.
Had the police taken the claim of the Bil’in residents seriously and examined the sworn statements given in their Mukhtar’s name, they would have found that Anav’s name has been linked to dubious land deals that turned out to be land theft.
Meanwhile, Israeli Civil Administration Office confirmed on Monday that the village of Bil’in is located in Area B, which is under Israel’s full security control, and that Israeli citizens are allowed to visit there, while in accordance to the Israeli law, as long as the area is under Israeli security control, the Israelis can enter it.
After the purchase deal of the land was done the Society of the Foundation transferred the land as a trust to the Civil Administration, which "converted" it into state land and leased it back to a settlers’ building.
A year and a half ago, when former Civil Administration head Brigadier General Ilan Paz found out about the method of converting private Palestinian land into state land, then leasing or selling it to a building company – a process approved by the State Prosecution – he issued a written order to shut down the "land laundry."
According to Haaretz, these plots of land have already been used for building dozens of Israeli settlements and others are awaiting purchasers.
The master plan
Researchers from B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and from Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights, have obtained the map of "The Master Plan of the Modi’in Illit Area for the Year 2020."
The map confirms that not only security issues, if at all, guided the separation Wall planners when they charted its route in the Bil’in area. The map was prepared in 1998 in the Israeli Housing Ministry’s initiative with the Civil Administration’s Planning Bureau and the Modi’in Illit and Mateh Binyamin councils.
The plan does not have statutory validity, but is a guiding document for the planning policy for a given area, and the master plans are formulated in its spirit.
The report shows that some 600 Dunams next to the plan for Matityahu East, owned by Bil’in families, is slated for the construction of 1,200 new housing units for settlers.
Less than two months ago Bil’in’s residents discovered a new road cutting through from the Matityahu East settlement to a large grove of olive trees in the area.
This confirms the fears that the construction of the Separation Wall is really intended to implement the master plan seven years ago.
About a month ago, after Haaretz published the first part of the research, after which the Civil Administration demanded Modi’in Illit council to issue orders to stop the construction.
On Sunday, the Civil Administration informed attorney Michael Sfard, who represents the residents of Bil’in that the local planning committee had ordered the construction to stop.
In response, Sfard wrote to the Civil Administration that Dror Etkes, head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project, visited the construction site and found out the construction work was proceeding at an even greater pace, adding that the houses were filled with Israeli settlers.
Sfard added he intends to file a petition to the High Court of Justice against the Civil Administration Office for inaction – in addition to the petition about the Wall and the new buildings in the nearby settlements separating Bil’in’s residents from their land.