Jewish settlers left with thousands of worthless illegal houses

Jewish settlements

The disqualification of the Regularization Law for West Bank land has stranded settlers in homes without building permits that cannot be sold.

In 2005 Eitan Pinzaru bought a house for NIS 800,000 in the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe, east of Kfar Saba. Three years ago when he tried to sell it he was hoping to receive NIS 1.6 million - a price reflecting the value of similar houses in the town at the time. But Pinzaru failed to close a deal when it became clear that the house was on a list of about 1,000 illegal homes in Judea and Samaria.

He recounts, "When we bought the house, we needed to get the agreement of the local authority and the civil administration. It wasn't a problem. We have a leasing agreement and approval of rights. Everything was fine until we decided to sell it and find another house. From that moment it became a nightmare. We understood that the house had no permit and the local council was taking no responsibility for it. This entire affair has completely rocked our family. We are prisoners in our own home."

Pinzaru is one of 60 families in Alfei Menashe in the same situation, which pushes down the price of the house and makes it impossible to get a mortgage to buy it. The complex legal situation in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) has created different types of illegal homes and inconsistent data.

According to the Civil Administration, as of 2016 there were 3,455 illegal houses in the territories and it raised the number to more than 4,000 in a presentation it recently made to the right wing pro-settler NGO Regavim - Protecting Our National Lands. The largest concentrationof homes are in Ofra (530), Beit El (289), Eli (166) and Eilon Moreh (128). In many cases the buyers new about the illegality of their homes but at least 1,000 families only found out about it later.

The problems began in 1999 when the Civil Administration set up the "Land Status Team" to expand the borders of settlements, known as blue lines, and which created illegal enclaves within existing settlements and sometimes a home might even be half in and half out of the settlement's official borders - as is the case with Pinzaru's house in Alfei Menashe.

We discovered that the value of our house had plunged

Among other things, the aim of the Regularization Law, which was first introduced in 2017, was to regulate the situation of houses in the settlements. Earlier this month the law was canceled by the High Court of Justice, which ruled that the law infringed on Palestinian property rights, following a petition by 23 local Palestinian councils and 13 human rights organizations. The direct result of the disqualification of the law is that many Jewish homeowners will not be able to sell their homes.

"We only discovered two years ago that the house is outside the blue line (official border of the settlement)," Rabbi Gilad Lewis told "Globes. He moved 23 years ago with his family to Beit El, which is just north of Ramallah. "People in the settlement that wanted to sell their homes found out that the houses did not appear in the town plan. The damage to us as the homeowners is that the value of the house has plunged compared with similar houses.

Lewis lives in a 210 square meter, eight bedroom house and according to him similar houses in Beit El sell for NIS 1.6 million.

"The problem is that the number of people who are prepared to buy a property on which it is impossible to take out a mortgage is drastically smaller," he adds.

Yoav Elitzur moved to Ofra 45 years ago, when he was five. His family was among the settlement's founders. "500 of the 600 houses on Ofra are outside of the blue line. The State built the houses, paved the roads and put up the electricity wires. The State built and we came to live. Yet in theory the High Court can issue at ruling for the demolition of everything because it sits on land that is called private and un-regularized. They have already done that to nine houses in a street near me."

In terms of the impact of the house's legality on its price, he said, "In effect, it's impossible to take a mortgage on these houses, which means it's impossible to sell them. The banks don't want to get into this sickbed. There is a couple here who just got divorced and can't sell the house."

Adv. Yossi Sfrintzls from the haredi settlement of Modi'in Illit where there are a large number of these illegal houses, explains that people in his city are not aware of the problem, perhaps because of the type of population. "Within the city are enclaves where they haven't built and even though they are physically in the city center, they are outside the jurisdiction of the city."

He adds that there are also problematic streets. "The blue line cuts buildings down the middle. There is an urban plan and building permit but 20 years later it became clear that a permit shouldn't have been issued because it's outside the municipal limits of Modi'in Illit and its's difficult there to get a mortgage.

Adv. Ziv Simon from the Simon, Esser, Daskal law firm represents residents of Alkfei Menashe. He explains to his clients that they bought their homes from the State in the 80s and 90s that they cannot realize their property rights. "The moment that there are historical ownership claims on the land on which the house is built, then a problem is created in selling or leasing it, as well as renovating or enlarging it because it's impossible to get a building permit. In addition, over the past year we have found that banks aren't giving mortgages to these houses. These people are imprisoned in their own homes. They cannot behave as owners of homes behave." The Regularization Law, he adds, was meant to regularize the matter.

But Adv. Shlomi Zacharia, who represented the High Court petitioners against the Regularization Law said, "The vast majority of these buildings never received a building permit. They were built according to plans. A large part of them were even built outside the jurisdiction of Israeli councils. This is a widespread phenomenon that took place with the support of government agencies or those with political aspirations who wanted to make changes on the land. In our estimation most of the buildings are built outside of plans and not on the basis of errors by the State. The only thing that the State did was to ignore the lack of law enforcement. This policy is what has led to a result that ultimately leaves thousands of buildings in an illegal situation, without a building permit. Beyond the legal aspects there are also issues of international law here.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 17, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Jewish settlements
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