The Israeli government official in charge of building regulations enforcement is a resident of Palgei Mayim, an illegal settlement outpost in the Occupied West Bank.
According to a report in Haaretz, Avi Cohen, who heads the Finance Ministry department that enforces planning and construction laws, has been in his role for the last two years.
Palgei Mayim is an extension of Eli settlement, and was established in 2001. The newspaper reports that “no master plan has ever been approved for Eli, because parts of the settlement are built on privately owned Palestinian land.” Eli itself was founded on the basis of a 1984 cabinet resolution.
Under international law, all settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory – whether ‘authorised’ by the Israeli state or not – are illegal.
Cohen’s responsibilities include “issuing demolition orders for illegal construction inside Israel, though he has no authority over demolitions in the West Bank.”
Haaretz reports that “Cohen bought his house more than 10 years ago and has never been served with a demolition order.” His house “has a building permit from the local [settler] council and approval from the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division.”
The neighbourhood “was developed by the Housing Ministry.”
The paper also cites an unnamed “source familiar with Cohen’s department”, who said that in recent months “there’s been a tendency to crack down on building violations in the Arab community.”
The source added: “It’s hard to know if this comes directly from the prime minister and the other relevant ministers, or if the bureaucracy sensed the mood and fell in line, but someone’s trying to make a show of force here — to press on the Arab community’s sorest spots. It’s cruel behaviour.”
Another source cited by Haaretz attributed the upsurge in demolitions to a desire by both Cohen’s department and the Justice Ministry “to show who’s the boss.”
Last year, Cohen’s department issued 152 demolition orders and demolished 51 buildings larger than 50 square meters. In 2015, the comparable figures were 24 and 16 respectively. These figures exclude the south, “where demolitions are the responsibility of the Public Security Ministry.”