Saving the Land of Israel via drone

Regavim uses drones to document illegal Arab land-use in Judea, Samaria and even pre-'67 Triangle.

Hillel Fendel ,

Illegal Arab construction near Susya
Illegal Arab construction near Susya

Regavim provides free legal counsel to farmers attacked by Arab thieves and vandals, rails against illegal Arab neighborhoods and construction, and tracks Arab abuse of natural resources. To this end, it deployed field inspectors to photograph, document and map out illegal Arab construction and land grabs – often at great personal risk.

But no more, now that it uses drones. Yishai Chamu, head of Regavim's Drones Unit, explains: "The idea came up after several incidents of acute danger to life, when our workers came to document environmental hazards or illegal construction in Judea, Samaria, or the Triangle [an Arab-populated district in the southern Galilee]. Instead of having to enter villages and walk stealthily around, with all the entailed dangers, we can now stand outside in some hidden spot, send up the drone, and receive a high-quality photo from the air."

Among the Regavim's greatest scoops is a photo of the large home of MK Jamal Zahalka (United Arab List), showing that it is actually an illegal structure. In fact, the Im Tirtzu organization this week asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate the issue. The entire neighborhood in which the MK lives, in northern Israel's Kafr Kara, was actually illegally built, and as a result of Regavim's findings, the Knesset Planning and Construction Committee demanded that the neighborhood be razed. No action has yet been taken to this end, however.

Regavim is proud of its drone operations, though they cannot quite replace aerial photography, as they can capture only relative small areas. "But they can give us a quick, local picture of a specific site," Chamu notes, "and we don't have to pay very high sums for a once-a-year photo."

"For instance, if I have an aerial photo from 2015, and now I have to see what changed in a specific spot, I can send up the drone – instead of having to send up a helicopter."

Regavim, co-founded by MK Betzalel Smotrich in 2006, bills itself as "setting a Zionist agenda for the State of Israel, with an emphasis on the land and its management and preservation." Regavim operates via legislative and judicial channels to recruit officials and state resources to protect national lands, properties and resources from foreign intervention.

Regavim's drones have also revealed illegal European Construction near Jerusalem, trespassing in IDF firing zones in the Triangle, river pollution near Hevron and the northern Negev, and more. Illegal mosques throughout the country have been documented as well, as has the parliamentary office of MK Yusuf Jabarin in an illegal structure in Um el-Fahm.