Building project in Samaria
Building project in Samaria Israel news photo: Flash 90

The building freeze in Judea and Samaria may be over, but that doesn't mean a building boom has already begun. Besides government edicts permitting or forbidding building, there is a whole slew of technical paperwork that residents of towns throughout Judea and Samaria must burrow through if they want to build a home. And while there is no longer – at least as of this moment – a government ban on building in the region, that has not suspended, obviated, or otherwise eliminated the other manifold bureaucratic requirements that must be fulfilled before a tractor breaks ground for a new home.

'Not everyone is like me, and I am sure many people got discouraged because of the freeze' and failed to secure the other documentation they would need anyway to begin building.

The story of Jill and Ze'ev Keen of Har Bracha is a lesson in what anyone seeking to build a home in Judea and Samaria is up against – and how to overcome the bureaucracy that has, Ze'ev Keen says, become an important tool in the hands of government to slow down, if not reduce to a bare minimum, any building in the region.

In August 2009 – a few months before the implementation of the freeze – Keen bought a “handyman's special” house in Har Bracha. “The house was 20 years old and had been built by a government contractor, not a private individual,” Keen tells Israel National News. “But for some reason the house did not have a building permit, and was not registered as being a private home.” The house needed major work, Keen said, to the extent that part of it needed to be demolished and rebuilt. In order for that to happen, he needed building permits, acquisition of which is an arduous task, which requires much phone time and several personal visits to Civil Authority headquarters in Beit El.

Subjected to the bureaucratic ping-pong that sent them from clerk to official as they sought the permits, the Keens did their best to cope with a problem familiar to many homeowners in Judea and Samaria, where many homes do not have building permits. Just as Keen felt he was making progress, however, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared the building freeze – and the process of “koshering” Keen's house for remodeling ground to a halt. “Officials told me that there was no point on working on my case, because of the freeze,” Keen said.

Not one to let bureaucracy get in his way, however, Keen persevered, nudging officials from the local authority to the Yesha Council to the Knesset to ensure that all his paperwork was in place, anticipating the day the freeze would be over and work could begin. Although he met with a great deal of resistance – “even from parties you would have thought would want to help with building,” he says – in the end he attained his goal, with an official document from the Har Bracha Local Authority that all his paperwork had been cleared, and that his building permit had been issued – and that the only thing preventing construction was the building freeze.

Now, with the freeze over, Keen says he is ready to begin building. “We are finalizing plans with the engineers, and G-d willing in a few weeks construction will begin.” But, Keen says, he is not sure how many other people are going to be able to begin building right away, as he is. “Not everyone is like me, and I am sure many people got discouraged because of the freeze,” and failed to secure the other documentation they would need anyway to begin building, he says. And at the rate the Civil Authority approves permits even during “normal” times, Keen says he can understand how many people throw up their hands in frustration.”

“The lesson I can provide is for people not to give up,” Keen says. “I made a nuisance of myself in all the relevant local and regional offices, and even enlisted MK Danny Danon's staff to help out.” It's only due to his perseverance that Keen has his building permit – and is ready to take advantage of the end of the freeze. “Between the rent, arnona (city tax) and other expenses over the past ten months, I figure I lost as much as NIS 20,000 because I couldn't start work right away,” Keen says. “Freeze or no freeze, you have to be dedicated to your goal, because the government doesn't make it easy for people like us to build.”