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20 Nov, 2018 03:13

Israeli settlers built illegal race track in occupied West Bank with $76,000 of public funds

Israeli settlers built illegal race track in occupied West Bank with $76,000 of public funds

A regional council in a West Bank settlement has used public funds to build a state-of-the-art racetrack, despite lacking a government permit, with an Israeli ministry allocating a further $1 million grant pending approval.

The Aravot Hayarden Regional Council in the Israeli-occupied West Bank spent some $76,000 in public funds last year to build a race track near Petza'el settlement, a Freedom of Information request, filed by the Peace Now group and the Movement for Freedom of Information, shows, as reported by Haaretz.

The problem with the long-running project, which had been under construction since at least 2016, is that it never received an approval from the Israeli authorities. The track is a private business, but it has been heavily backed by the regional council, which has supported it financially and has sought to legalize it, albeit retroactively.

While the project received early legal approval in February, it is still not enough for the construction to go underway. The Israeli government, meanwhile, has appeared to turn a blind eye to the violation of its own laws when it comes to infrastructure for Israeli settlers.

Last year, the Israeli Interior Ministry even allocated a hefty 4.145 million shekels [ $1.119 million] grant to complete the racing facility.

Speaking to Haaretz, the ministry has attempted to distance itself from the illegal construction, saying that "despite this approval in principle, no money at all has been released to the council for this."

Meanwhile, the track has been fully operational, hosting races as well as driving practice.

It's unclear whether the track's owners have received any subsidies from the council this year, since the information request refers only to the 2017 budget.

While council chairman David Elhayani has not commented on the issue, back in 2016 he endorsed the controversial project. At the time, Elhayani claimed that the track has been constructed with the direct knowledge and cooperation of the Israeli police and army.

"We are going full power on this project … We must not forget that we have an advantage, since we fully cooperate with the police and the army," he told Ynet in May 2016, arguing that the weather conditions and the track's proximity to the center of the country make it "an ideal platform for a motor sports center."

Israeli racer Micky Yohai, who is the founder and the driving force behind the project, praised the council for its support, saying that Elhayani has been "strongly pushing the issue."

In February last year, the Israeli army Civil Administration, a de-facto Israeli government in the West Bank, admitted that the track was being built in defiance of the law and ordered a stop to the construction works. However, it did not order to destroy the already erected structures, implying that that it still might be approved.

The project is supposed to incorporate different types of racing facilities, including a 3.2 km paved track, a 1.2 km cross-country track, a drag racing strip and a motorcross track.

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