Knesset committee:
Police ordered to explain Enforcement Operations discrepancies

Knesset discussion reveals unexplained gaps in police reports on assistance it gives authorities enforcing planning, building laws.

Mordechai Sones,

Police clash with Bedouin during demolition of homes in Umm al Hiran in Negev
Police clash with Bedouin during demolition of homes in Umm al Hiran in Negev
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A recent Knesset Internal Affairs Committee hearing initiated by the Regavim movement for protecting Israel's resources and sovereignty exposed gaps in police reporting of enforcement operations regarding planning and construction violations.

The police was required to submit a "transparent" and detailed report of its activities, and to explain why the specialized unit created to deal exclusively with building-code cases has been diverted, time and time again, to other police-work assignments – in violation of the government decision that created the unit in the first place.

The Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee required the Israel Police Force to submit within two months a report clarifying a number of problems regarding the unit's support for local authorities' enforcement operations in building-code violation cases. The special hearing in which these discrepancies came to light was convened as a result of Regavim's careful monitoring of the situation in the field.

Oversight and enforcement of Israel's Planning and Building Code can only be carried out under the protection of a police security detail. For this specific purpose a specialized unit was created within the Israel Police in 2004: The Authority for Coordination of Enforcement Operations (known by the Hebrew acronym MaTPA). This unit was created for the sole purpose of providing support for enforcement operations involving building violations, and was charged with providing the necessary support to local authorities, municipalities, and planning boards.

Video synopsis of hearing's highlights (Hebrew):

The MaTPA unit of the Israel Police Force is required to report to the government bi-annually, and has claimed in these reports to have provided support for more than 2,000 illegal structure demolitions each year. However, these figures are at odds with data provided by Israel Police in response to Regavim's Freedom of Information requests.

There are more than 200 local and regional planning councils, as well as numerous national authorities and other bodies responsible for enforcing building laws. The all-too-familiar complaint of insufficient police support for their enforcement efforts was the impetus for creating a special task force under the auspices of Assistant Attorney General Erez Kaminetz, whose final report publicized in 2016 noted the task force was unable to bridge the gap between enforcement bodies' charges of a lack of sufficient police support for enforcement operations versus police claims that ample and efficient support was provided whenever requests for such support were received.

The Kaminetz Committee's findings served as the basis for Amendment 116 to Israel's Planning and Construction Code, passed by the Knesset in 2017. In light of the lack of improvement in the situation since the laws' passage, Regavim initiated a special hearing of the Knesset's Interior Committee, which was held last week.

At the hearing, Regavim Northern Region Field Coordinator Hezi Eyal explained the data presented in the police report are global national numbers, not subdivided by region. Since the overwhelming majority of enforcement operations are carried out in the Southern Region where enforcement has become relatively widespread, the data are skewed and do not accurately reflect the situation on the ground throughout Israel. Furthermore, inclusion of cases in which illegal structures are dismantled voluntarily, without police involvement, further inflates the figures presented by MaTPA.

Police clash with Bedouin during demolition of homes in Umm al Hiran in Negev
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In the course of last week's Knesset hearing, the representative of the police's Enforcement Authority admitted that the specialized MaTPA unit spends only 70% of its time enforcing planning and building laws. This admission infuriated MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), who quoted the government decision that outlines the unit's mandate: "The sole task of this unit is to provide support for enforcement of Israel's Planning and Construction Law – 100% of the time. Any and all other assignments require authorization of the Police Chief on a case-by-case basis." Moreover, Smotrich noted, often police do not follow through on scheduled demolitions because of intelligence warnings. The Knesset Committee made it clear that aborting an operation of this kind requires direct and specific authorization by the Police Chief; the current practice of cancelling demolition operations on the basis of an intelligence officer's warning violates the law.

Attorney Boaz Arzi of Regavim's Legal Department presented a model for creating a digital portal to enable all relevant bodies to request police support for enforcement operations. This on-line portal would establish uniform procedures for submitting requests and at the same time would create transparency regarding police allocation of resources and manpower and facilitate monitoring and oversight of enforcement procedures.

At the conclusion of the highly-charged hearing, participants enjoyed a revealing moment when MK Juma'a Azbarga of the Joint Arab List asserted that "Regavim does the work of the Planning and Construction Council. Regavim has become the body that creates policy as well as the body in charge of its execution, and everything else."

In summing up the hearing, Chairman Yoav Kish (Likud) required Israel Police to submit a clear and transparent report clarifying the unexplained gaps in the data it provides, including a breakdown of enforcement operations by region, and an explanation of the re-assignment of the specialized MaTPA unit resources and personnel to other types of police work, in violation of the government decision that created the unit.

Police detain Bedouin during demolition of homes in Umm al Hiran in Negev
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