half of israel’s land is army-controlled

How did IDF gain control over half of the country?
Zafrir Rinat, Haaretz, Nov 17 2008 (extracts)

Some countries have an army, and some armies, like the Israel Defense Forces, have a country. According to a recent study on the defense establishment and land in Israel, various defense bodies lord over half the land. The army tops the list, but they all largely do as they please with respect to planning and development. The result is that while the rest of the country adopts orderly processes, starting from national and regional master plans, much of the state land remains managed separately. The existence of this kingdom may be essential, but its size and management methods have yet to face serious public scrutiny. The study, A Land in Khaki: Geographic Dimension of Defense in Israel, was written by geographers Amiram Oren and Rafi Regev and published by Carmel Publishing. Oren has been researching how the defense establishment’s activities affect the planning of land use, the environment and the property sector.

In Israel’s infancy, they write, the defense establishment built on the foundation of the British army bases. It expanded its land holdings by turning areas into training zones and by building new bases. The Knesset allowed this expansion to proceed practically unfettered. It did set up a planning procedure by committee — whose deliberations were confidential, and whose membership was limited. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli defense forces substantially increased, and the army built a great many more installations and training zones. Even after the withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, it continues to spread out. In addition to the small and medium-sized bases, the defense establishment has several mega bases and operational areas, each covering tens of thousands of dunams, mostly in the south. Close to 9 million dunams (about one third of Israel’s land area and two thirds of the Negev) are used for training and equipment trials. Army bases and training zones occupy a quarter of Judea and Samaria (sic – RB). The upshot is that over the years, Oren and Regev write, there was no civilian supervision over the size, location and number of regions allocated to the defense establishment. The planning authorities know nothing of the true needs of the defense establishment but tends to approve requests anyway.

A Land in Khaki also discusses the assumption that Israel is direly short of land. In fact, the researchers say, the defense establishment actually has vast available land resources, and tremendous freedom in its use of that land. The defense establishment also influences land beyond its direct control and can thwart plans by invoking its own special planning status. Usually the army gets antsy about civilian plans next to its installations. During the last two decades, as land prices climb, the army has been abandoning the cities, and pressure has mounted on the defense establishment to stop ignoring the planning systems and to coordinate with the planning authorities in zoning. The courts, which have also addressed several motions against the construction of military installations, also urge coordination. This study’s main recommendation is that the army adapt to the reality of Israeli civilian society, which is in dire need of land. The study also urges change to the anachronistic clauses in the law that give the defense establishment uncontrolled freedom of action.

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