The settlement movement's construction arm used forged documents to "prove" that land in the West Bank outpost of Migron was legally purchased, a police investigation has concluded.
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As a result, the buildings constructed on the privately-owned Palestinian land will be razed by Wednesday, government attorney Aner Helman, from the prosecution’s High Court division, said.
The illegal outpost of Migron was the subject of a High Court of Justice petition filed by Peace Now in 2006. The court eventually ordered the outpost razed by summer 2012. But in July of that year, shortly before the planned demolition, Migron residents asked the court to rescind its ruling after purchase documents of three lots in the outpost were submitted to the prosecution by al-Watan, a subsidiary of Amana, the settlement movement’s construction arm.
In response, the court ruled that while the residents would have to evacuate Migron as scheduled, the houses on these lots should not be razed until the purchase claim was investigated.
This was the second time Al-Watan had claimed to have purchased land in Migron. The first, in 2004, turned out to be fraudulent.
In the current case, Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank confirmed Al-Watan’s purchase and registered the change in ownership. Yet even at the time, the purchase of two of the three lots seemed dubious: They were owned by Yusuf al-Naboth, who died in 2011 at the age of 100, and the sale of the land was reported only several months after his death, in March 2012. This belated reporting, coupled with Al-Watan’s history of fake land purchases and the fact that the outpost in question was facing a demolition order, should seemingly have raised some red flags at the Civil Administration.
In response to Al-Watan’s claim to have purchased the land, attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zacharia, representing the Palestinian landowners behind the original petition, filed a complaint with the police. In March, police said there was good reason to suspect that the power of attorney used to purchase Naboth’s two lots was forged, and therefore, they would not approve the sale.
Al-Watan then submitted additional documents meant to prove the sale’s legality, and police began checking these documents. Last Thursday, government attorney Aner Helman, from the prosecution’s High Court division, informed the parties of the police’s conclusion.
“With regard to the police investigation opened into the aforementioned information, it found that the document given to the Justice Ministry to support the purchase claims is a forged document,” Helman wrote (emphasis in the original). Therefore, he said, the buildings on the lots in question will be razed by this coming Wednesday.
This isn’t the first time questionable documents have been used to support settler claims to have purchased Palestinian lands. In addition to the earlier 2004 case involving Migron, a district court found last year that documents submitted by Al-Watan regarding the purchase of a house in Dir Dabwan, near the settlement of Ofra, were forged. Court cases are currently pending on Palestinian claims that Al-Watan forged purchase documents for land in two other settlement outposts, Amona and Givat Assaf.
Yariv Oppenheimer, Peace Now director, said in response that "the industry of forging documents in order to transfer ownership of lands to settlers is reminiscent of the methods of organized crime." Oppenheimer called on the State Attorney's Office to "not only quickly and completely raze Migron, but also accelerate the investigation and make arrests in order to expose the forgers and those behind them."
Ze'ev Hever, director of al-Watan, declined to comment.