ELI, West Bank — A dozen homes are being built illegally next to the home of the defense minister’s adviser on settlement affairs in the West Bank settlement of Eli, The Times of Israel has learned.
Construction on homes that will more than double the size of the illegal outpost of Hayovel, technically part of Eli in the central West Bank, has been going on for several months, but the homes have never been authorized by the Defense Ministry.
The Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing West Bank construction — confirmed in a statement that the building currently lacks necessary permits and that “stop-work orders had been issued months ago when the construction was first spotted,” the Civil Administration said,
Hayovel was established in 1998 without government approval on a hilltop over a kilometer from the main part of the Eli settlement. It is currently made up of nine homes, eight of which are on state land.
Among the residents is Kobi Eliraz, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s adviser on settlement affairs. His house is across the street from the construction site, which is also on state land.
As defense minister, Liberman is the official in charge of all Israeli West Bank construction, an aspect of the job that Eliraz manages.
Permits for the homes cannot be given until the homes are included in a master plan, which must be approved first by the Defense Ministry.
In a statement responding to the finding, Eliraz’s office said, “The defense minister’s adviser on settlement affairs has nothing to do with the site in question, and the attempt to artificially connect him to the matter causes unnecessary harm.”
But the Kerem Navot settler watchdog group argued that Eliraz allowing the construction to go ahead under his nose was indicative of the government’s support for settlement building.
“The question is not whether Eliraz is directly involved in the approval of this illegal construction site 50 meters from his house. The fact that a senior public servant lives and was once mayor of a community, whose very existence is embedded in criminal activity, is the best indication of what this government is all about,” Kerem Navot founder Dror Etkes said.
Etkes was referring to Eliraz’s tenure as mayor of Eli several years ago, when more than 150 homes in the settlement were found by the Civil Administration to have been built on private Palestinian land.
While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, oftentimes on private Palestinian land.
The new homes in Hayovel are being constructed by Amana, a non-profit group that builds homes in settlements across the West Bank. But Eli Mayor Ido Meushar said that the project was commissioned by the residents themeslves. Regardless, it was not clear if the homes had any owners.
Amana refused to comment and officials in Eli declined to say how many homes were being built, though a survey of the site, surrounded by white tin corrugated sheets, seemed to indicate at least a dozen homes and up to 16 slated for construction on the plot of land.
Over the fence, recently formed exteriors of the dozen or so houses could be seen within. Despite the stop-work order, construction has still continued.
What started as nine homes…
The Hayovel neighborhood has a long history of legal battles and is currently in the process of being legalized.
Caravan mobile homes sat on the site until 2003, when work began on the nine permanent homes in the neighborhood.
Arguing that they had been built illegally, the Peace Now settler watchdog petitioned the High Court of Justice in 2005, demanding that they be demolished.
Over the next four years, the state’s official position recognized that the outpost was to be evacuated, but that the exact timing still needed to be determined.
Refusing to present the High Court a plan for the demolition, the government requested and received a total of 20 postponements to the Hayovel court hearing.
During this period, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led government replaced Ehud Olmert’s center-left coalition, leading to a rightward shift by the state on settlement matters.
Rather than proceed with the demolition of the nine structures, the government informed the court in January 2010 that it would be conducting a survey of the grounds in order to determine whether they could be seized as state land.
In a step toward retroactively legalizing the outpost, the state declared in June 2011 that nearly all of Hayovel had been built on state land, based on the survey results.
Two houses were found to have indeed been constructed on private Palestinian land and one of them was destroyed in 2014. Peace Now withdrew its demolition petition for the other one after it was revealed to belong to the widow of IDF soldier Eliraz Peretz, who was killed during a 2010 operation in the Gaza Strip.
Nonetheless, the legalization process for the Hayovel neighborhood has yet to be completed, and the master plan that includes the site where building is currently in motion has not received state authorization.
Meushar said “endless attempts” have been made to get the Hayovel master plan approved, but every try had been overturned by courts.
He blamed those “exploiting the legal system to delay statutory matters,” but expressed confidence that the government “would finally take responsibility and legalize the land once and for all.”