Peace Now Settlement Watch: Police Anti-Fraud Unit to "Examine" Complaints Against Settler Leadership Following Peace Now Petitions

The state announced this week to court that the Lahav 433 police anti-fraud organization, as well as the State Prosecutor's Office, will be “examining” Peace Now’s complaints of two cases of illegal construction in the Binyamin Region Council area of the West Bank. The announcement came following two petitions that Peace Now filed to the High Court demanding that the Police and the State Prosecutor open investigations against the heads of the Binyamin Regional Council, the Amana settlement movement and other bodies that were involved in big projects of illegal construction in settlement outposts. One petition was about the establishment of the illegal outpost of Kerem Reim (west of Ramallah), and the other petition was against the construction of 21 housing units in the illegal outpost of Hayovel (south of Nablus).
 
The hearing of the petition concerning Hayovel will take place this Monday (7/1/19).
 
Peace Now: For 50 years now, a handful of settlers have been using public funds through the settlement councils and Amana to put facts on the ground that affect the future of all of us in violation of the law and of the government's decisions. The hesitation of the State Prosecutor's Office and the police to investigate the organized crime of illegal construction in the settlements is tantamount to granting immunity to the offenders and shows a lack of respect for the rule of law. The message the government is sending to the settlers is that they are above the law.

Background
Many of the settlements in the West Bank were established not only against international law, which prohibits the establishment of civilian dwellings of the occupying population in an occupied territory, but also against Israeli laws and regulations applying to the West Bank. Much has been written about the phenomenon of the illegal outposts – settlements which were established without government approval and without going through the legal process of planning and obtaining rights to the land. Under the Netanyahu government, efforts are being made to retroactively legalize these illegal settlements, rather than to evict them.
 
In early 2017, Peace Now published a thorough report unraveling the mechanism behind the illegal construction in settlements. The report showed how official bodies like the local authorities and the Settlement Division of the WZO, as well as the Amana settlement organization and other bodies, are systematically using tax payer money to establish illegal facts on the ground and to found new settlements. Although it is a well-organized mechanism, the government and the law enforcement bodies have never investigated those responsible in the crimes, nor have they ever filed an indictment against them.
 
Peace Now has been filing complaints to the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office with evidence showing who is responsible for the illegal construction and how, demanding to open investigations against them. In all of those complaints in the last couple of years, the response was that there was no decision yet on whether to open investigations or not.

Because of the reluctance to open investigations, Peace Now has gone to court with four cases demanding that an investigation be opened, on the establishment of the Kerem Reim outpost, construction in Hayovel outpost, construction in Shvut Rachel and a general complaint against many cases of illegal construction by several regional councils and Amana.  
 
The meaning of “examination”
The examination opened by the police anti-fraud unit together with the State Prosecutor’s Office is problematic. On the one hand, for the first time, this unit will look at the evidence and consider the possibility of opening an investigation. On the other hand, an examination is an ambiguous, non-legal term that comes in lieu of a proper, legal investigation. An “examination” may just be the state’s tactic to mollify the High Court by showing that it is serious looking into the matter, though without actually taking any substantive action. If the court does determine that an examination is sufficient, it is likely that the examination will lead to nothing. If the court insists on an investigation, the result may lead to further action against those behind the illegal construction.

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