Martedì, 16 Aprile 2024
The scheme / Israele

How Israeli settlers obtain mortgages to build (illegal) houses in Palestine

Controversy over loans in settlements in the West Bank: Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and his right-hand man build on unauthorised land. Banks are also involved

A business committee composed of far-right politicians and bankers is allegedly behind the illegal settlements of Israeli settlers in the Palestinian West Bank. This is revealed by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in an investigative report, which points fingers particularly at the Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and his long-time collaborator Yehuda Eliyahu. The accusation is that Eliyahu, along with other settlers, obtained a mortgage to build a house on Palestinian land without authorisation from the Settlements Department in Tel Aviv, a department long overseen by the minister's trusted aide.

"The two main protagonists of this story, Finance Minister Smotrich and his longtime friend-partner Yehuda Eliyahu, together with their friends in the settlement department, were part of a group of settlers who obtained mortgages while misleading the banks," says Dror Etkes, a member of the Kerem Navot organization, which conducted research on mortgages in the West Bank settlements.

In 2004, Yehuda Eliyahu, who also held the position of head of the Settlements Department at the Ministry of Defense, secured a mortgage for a property in lot number 3153, situated within the Neria urban plan. However, the dwelling was actually located in Harasha, an area only granted legal status in 2020. During the construction phase and mortgage acquisition, the land was categorised as "survey lands," where property rights had not yet been definitively established. Consequently, lacking an official urban plan, the Settlements Department had no jurisdiction over the area, making it technically impossible to obtain mortgages for unauthorised constructions. The land was officially designated as state property only in 2011, facilitating its subsequent legal authorisation. Nevertheless, the mortgages procured by Eliyahu and others were sanctioned long before this, all on the same date: June 27, 2004. In both cases, the properties were listed as located on Via Harasha Neria, which does not appear on any map.

The plot thickens with the revelation that two years later, Elishama Cohen, the rabbi of the yeshiva at the Homesh outpost, also secured similar mortgages. Aerial imagery depicts the Neria lots lying vacant for a decade, yet between 2014 and 2018, six residences were erected, now inhabited.

Harasha is not the only place where such a pattern emerged. In 2017, Haaretz disclosed that Smotrich himself acquired a mortgage for a lot in Kedumim (approximately an hour's drive away) but illicitly constructed his home elsewhere, within the Giv'at Rashi neighborhood, non-state land situated beyond the Kedumim urban plan. The inquiry unveils that, along with the finance minister's residence, two others were constructed in the same manner and vicinity.

Moreover, the mortgages for both Harasha and Kedumim share another notable aspect: they were all registered at the same branch of Bank Mizrahi Tefahot, located in Jerusalem. A spokesperson for the bank clarified that some of these mortgages were originally extended by Bank Adanim, which operated a branch at the same locale and was subsequently acquired by Mizrahi in 2005. Despite this merger, Mizrahi Tefahot disavows any responsibility for the affair. "Most of the loans referred to in your inquiry were not taken in Mizrahi Tefahot but in Bank Adanim, 20 years ago, before it was merged into the bank. The loans are being properly repaid, and some have already been extinguished,” the spokesperson affirmed.

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How Israeli settlers obtain mortgages to build (illegal) houses in Palestine

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