Police seize settler’s planes after he lands chopper near checkpoint

Authorities discover makeshift runway outside home of Itamar resident, who is not licensed to fly

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Border Police confiscate a helicopter near the Qalandiya crossing that was stolen by an Israeli settler on March 27, 2018. (Border Police)
Border Police confiscate a helicopter near the Qalandiya crossing that was stolen by an Israeli settler on March 27, 2018. (Border Police)

Police seized a helicopter belonging to a settler in the northern West Bank who had been flying without a license and without coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority, officials said Thursday.

Border police were tipped off to Yedidya Meshulami high-flying antics after the suspect landed his chopper Sunday at the defunct Atarot airport between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Security officials had been scanning the area adjacent to the Qalandiya checkpoint as part of an operation to nab illegal Palestinian workers ahead of the Passover holiday when they noticed the parked helicopter.

Officers subsequently seized the chopper, arrested Meshulami for landing it illegally, and transferred him for questioning, a statement from the Border Police said.

During his interrogation, officers discovered that the 44-year-old did not have a pilot’s license and had been flying without the knowledge of the Civil Aviation Authority.

According to the Haaretz daily, Meshulami told authorities that he had been trying to “take control” of the nearby Qalandiya checkpoint.

“No matter what they do to me, I’ll take it over,” he was said to have warned. It was not immediately clear in what manner Meshulami intended to take over the checkpoint. He could not be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, Meshulami was released to his home on restrictive conditions.

Two days later, Border Police arrived at the illegal Alumot outpost, a neighborhood of the Itamar settlement where the former Air Force pilot lives with his family. They found a hangar containing a second helicopter and an ultralight plane, in addition to a makeshift runway where Meshulami apparently would take off and land.

Haaretz said authorities have known about the settler’s personal airport since he paved the airstrip in 2013. It was then that they stripped him of license, the report said.

During Thursday’s raid, Meshulami’s second chopper was confiscated. Border Police said that the ultralight plane will be seized as well in the coming days.

“In his behavior, the suspect risked civilian and military airliners in Israeli air space by not only flying without a license and with an aircraft that did not meet the required criteria but also by taking off, flying, and landing without authorization,” the Border Police said in a statement.

Meshulami’s attorney, Nati Rom, criticized the handling of the investigation, saying that police had already closed seven similar investigations against his client without arrest.

The attorney added that the investigation was being held behind closed doors and its developments should not have been leaked by the police.

“We believe that the time has come to apply Israeli law, namely aviation law, on all of Judea and Samaria, but unfortunately this is still not the case,” Rom said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

Ultralight planes are banned in the West Bank, where one must fly at least 8,000 feet in the air, an altitude too high for the tiny aircraft.

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