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Jews Attempt to Salvage Their Homes From Floundering Company

A construction company is in financial straits, dozens of apartments are taken over - and Peace Now says: Jews must leave.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 8/2/2007, 5:19 PM

The Heftzibah Construction Company suddenly faces bankruptcy, one of its top executives tried to commit suicide, and hundreds of home-owners may find themselves on the street.  But Peace Now is interested in only one thing: "Get those Jews out of there!"

The reference, in this case, is to hundreds of hareidi-religious families that, over the course of Wednesday night, broke into the apartments they paid for, but may lose if the builders go bankrupt.

How it All Began
Among the many financial problems facing the Heftzibah Construction Company is a series of recent Supreme Court rulings, instigated by the radical left-wing Peace Now organization, that forbid continued construction on a very large housing project between Modiin and the Green Line dividing pre-1967 Israel from Judea/Samaria. 

The new project, in Matityahu East, was supposed to be for 3,000 units, but after only 500 were sold, a Peace Now suit led the Court to order a halt to all activity.  Of the 500 that were sold, only 70 had previously moved in, leaving 430 families having paid hundrededs of thousands of shekels each, but unable to move in to their new homes.  In addition, the 70 families already living there have been forced to live under frozen construction-site conditions.  This has been the situation for a year and a half now.

The suit brought by Peace Now - an organization that is dedicated to eradicating Jewish presence from Judea and Samaria - showed that various technical/legal glitches plagued the process of receiving the construction permits.  For instance, a zoning change was publicized in Hebrew newspapers, but not in Arabic ones. 

As Jewish land rights activist Betzalel Smutrich told B'Sheva's Ofrah Lax last month, "The Supreme Court is supposed to protect citizens from the authorities that stick to the dry law and procedure.  But the Supreme Court has long forgotten its function...  The Arabs were not even hurt here; the original plan was legally approved, and the revised plan did not change the area being built. So why all the hubbub?"

Another source close to the case said, "True, the buildings weren't built at the same angle called for by the plan that was originally approved - but to say that this means there were severe construction violations?  If there's a problem with 10% of the buildings, then at least approve the other 90%!" But the Supreme Court, at Peace Now's behest, did not do so.

After a year and a half of legal troubles, it appeared that the families' plight was nearing a legal solution - and then came the news that Heftzibah, the builders, might be facing bankruptcy.  Over the course of Wednesday night and Thursday morning, many families from various locations besieged the company's Jerusalem offices - while many others made their way to the Matityahu East apartments they had long ago paid for and to which they were denied entry, and broke in.  Their goal: to establish their rights at the possibly soon-to-be-contested properties.

The mass take-over was apparently organized in advance.  Apartments built by Heftzibah but not yet fully approved for occupancy were also taken over by their owners in Beit Shemesh, Beitar Illit, and elsewhere.

Heftzibah is in the process of building 5,000 apartments around the country, many of which have already been purchased.  Hundreds of families - many of them in Matityahu, but also many in other locations - now face the prospect of losing hundreds of thousands of shekels each.  Heftzibah officials and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim have expressed words of support and said they would try to solve the problems, but this has not comforted the threatened families.

Heftzibah has not filed police complaints against the squatters, though the police say they're prepared to take action if called upon to do so, depending on the extent of the problem.  Peace Now, however, is very concerned at the taking of the law into private hands, and the organization's Secretary Yariv Oppenheimer had this to say about the situation: "The police must evict the squatters from the [Matityahu] apartments now, even before the Sabbath."