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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Collapse of Heftzibah contractor victimizes many - was it due to the occupation or to Peace Now?

In Israel, occupation or no occupation, construction contractors occasionally go bankrupt. When they do, prospective homeowners who had paid substantial sums for unfinished apartments usually suffer. This was the fate of the Clarin company many years ago, and of some others. After the Clarin fiasco, there were supposedly safeguards put in place so that people would be protected if a contractor went bankrupt.
The Heftzibah company went bankrupt recently. Heftzibah was building housing and apartments in many locations, including Kfar Yona, inside Israel, as well as in Modiin Elit and the Har Homa project in Jerusalem, both beyond the green line.
Yariv Oppenheimer   of Peace Now seems to believe that the bankruptcy of Heftzibah is punishment "from on high" for building in the West Bank. But what about the people who bought apartments or houses that are inside Israel?
On the other hand, it is not clear if the dispute regarding the Matityahu-East neighborhood was really the cause of the collapse of Heftzibah, or whether it is just a convenient excuse.
Ami Isseroff

August 07 2007; 01:08PM
Building Bridges: Peace Now caused Heftsiba's downfall?!
Posted by Yariv Oppenheimer  

"The cause of the real crisis is the struggle of Peace Now against us with the support of the courts. Hundreds of completed apartments will not be handed over due to the argument that the land they were built on was purchased illegally." This is how businessman Mordechai Yonah, president of the Heftsiba Group, justified the reasons for the collapse of the company.

It is difficult to know if in fact this collapse was a consequence of the alleged illegal construction Heftsiba conducted in the settlement of Modi'in-Ilit, however, there is no doubt that the heavy price is being paid by thousands of innocent people who have been left with no money and no place to live.
As part of the socio-political stance that beyond the Green Line there is no one to answer to, the Heftsiba Group and other real estate companies started building the Matityahu-East neighborhood in Modi'in-Ilit, in 2004.
The construction project took a questionable path when the state publicly announced that part of the lands of Kfar Bili'in were now state-owned and gave permission to build settlements there. The construction companies and the Modi'in-Ilit Regional Council cooperated and worked on this ambitious project without allowing the actual landowners to appeal the decision. All the approvals and permits needed were obtained hastily and in secret in order to avoid any meaningful objections or discussions on the land ownership.
Furthermore, even the initial project approval for the construction of hundreds of apartments from the Higher Planning Committee, was allegedly obtained outside the bounds of the regional council's jurisdiction and hence was illegal and with no authorization. These alleged violations were committed in order to allow the Heftsiba Group and other construction companies to broaden their projects in the area and instead of building 1,500 apartments, Hefstiba started building and marketing 3,000 apartments, double the amount of the approved plans. The situation was described perfectly well by Gilad Rogel, legal advisor to the Modi'in-Ilit Regional Council, when he said to the council's engineer: "At this very moment, serious construction and planning offenses of colossal proportions are being committed."

After petitions were filed, the High Court of Justice received the complaints of Kfar Bili'in citizens and the Peace Now movement and issued an order to halt all activities related to the project.
We can assume that no company including Heftsiba would have employed such tactics and tricks and allegedly built thousands of apartments illegally, were the project undertaken within Israel's borders. But where territories of the West Bank are concerned, laws are breached, law enforcement is almost non-existent and there seems to be no difficulty in exploiting the Palestinians' weakness to steal their private lands.
In the case of the Matityahu-East neighborhood of Modi'in-Ilit, we are not talking about occupation in the ideological sense or a moral struggle related to Israel's rights on its lands. In this case, we are dealing with a 'commercial occupation' designed to take advantage of the reality on the ground for economic gains. It is at the expense of the Palestinians and it is illegal. The price of this wanton behavior is being paid by hundreds of families who bought these apartments at the hands of the ambitious property agents of Heftsiba, allegedly without the knowledge that this project was built without the proper permits and on private Palestinian lands.

It comes as no surprise that a company like Heftsiba, which did not hesitate to allegedly break the law and cheat the residents of Kfar Bili'in, would cheat its own clients who were left with nothing at the end of the day.

The issue of the Matityahu-East neighborhood in Modi'in-Ilit should serve as a warning to any political or commercial body that seeks to treat the territories as his own, and to ignore the law. Right now, we can only hope that the criminal investigation opened in this case will bring those responsible for this outrageous behavior to justice and that legal proceedings against those involved in the event will be fruitful. Their reckless and vulgar behavior has affected hundreds of innocent families who bought apartments in Matityahu-East and they should be held accountable.

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