There's a System for Turning Palestinian Property Into Israel's State Land

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

Ehud Barak likes to compare the State of Israel to a villa in a jungle. It would be interesting to know whether he means that the areas of the settlements in the territories are a legal veranda of the villa or part of the jungle.

Right under the noses, in the best case, of prime ministers, chiefs of staff and GOCs of the Central Command, who are responsible for "Judea and Samaria" (the West Bank), among them Barak himself, the State of Israel has imposed the law of the jungle on those territories. The Civil Administration, with the blessing of the State Prosecutor's Office, has been a key partner in a system of real estate deals, of which the description "dubious" would be complimentary.

Building companies owned and managed by settler leaders and land dealers acquire lands from Palestinian crooks and transfer them to the Custodian of Government Property in the Israel Lands Administration. The custodian "converts" the lands to "state lands," leases them back to settler associations that then sell them to building companies. In this way it has been ensured that the Palestinians (under the law in the territories, the onus of proof is on them) will never demand their lands back.

A year and a half ago, when this became known to him, Brigadier General Ilan Paz, then the commander of the Judea and Samaria district, issued a written order to shut down the lands laundry. He reasoned that even if this was legally correct, it smelled bad. These lands have already served for the establishment of dozens of Jewish settlements and others are awaiting purchasers. Some of these lands, for example the lands of the village of Bil'in - now known thanks to the determined struggle against the separation fence - are adjacent to the 1967 border. The Defense Ministry has seen to it that the route of the fence will "annex" them to the "Israeli" side and the entrepreneurs are hastening to establish facts in concrete.

Two weeks ago it was first published here that adjacent to Bil'in, in the Jewish settlement of Matityahu East, a new neighborhood of Upper Modi'in, hundreds of apartments are going up without a permit. The lawyer for the inhabitants of Bil'in, attorney Michael Sfard, sent the State Prosecutor's Office a copy of a letter that Gilad Rogel, the lawyer for the Upper Modi'in local council, wrote to the council's engineer. Rogel warned that entrepreneurs are building "entire buildings without a permit, and all this with your full knowledge and with planning and legal irresponsibility that I cannot find words to describe."

In a report that he sent to the Interior Ministry, the council's internal comptroller, Shmuel Heisler, wrote that the construction in the new project was being carried out contrary to the approved urban construction plan and deviates from it "extensively."

The Justice Ministry has confirmed that "apparently illegal construction is underway in the jurisdiction of the locale Upper Modi'in, and that the Civil Administration in the area of Judea and Samaria has been asked to send its statement on the matter."

The Civil Administration spokesman has said that "in light of the fact that at this stage, too, construction work is being carried out there, it is the intention of the head of the Civil Administration to examine as soon as possible the legal means of enforcement at his disposal, in order to bring about the stoppage of the building that is being carried out in this area."

On the ground, the work is proceeding as usual. Documents in the possession of Haaretz show that building violations are just the very tip of an affair that is many times more serious. The first document is a sworn statement by attorney Moshe Glick, the lawyer for a settlers' association called The Society of the Foundation of the Land of Israel Midrasha, Ltd." On June 16, 2002, Glick declared to attorney Doron Nir Zvi: "I hereby submit this sworn statement in the place of the mukhtar [headman] of Bil'in. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Muhammad `Ali Abed al Rahman Bournat is the owner of the plot known as Bloc 2 Plot 134 in the village of Bil'in."

Never set foot

On November 16, 2003, Glick signed another sworn statement. The new statement was aimed at explaining the strange phenomenon of an Israeli attorney swearing under oath, a procedure that is parallel to sworn testimony in a court, in the place of the mukhtar of an Arab village. From the new statement it emerges that Glick has never set foot on the lands to which his statement relates. "This sworn statement comes in place of a statement by the mukhtar of the village of Bil'in, as because of the security situation there is a real danger to the life of any Jew who tries to enter the village of Bil'in (and needless to say when it is a matter of the issue of the purchase of land). Moreover, there is a prohibition by the authorities that forbids citizens of Israel to enter Areas A and B."

The spokesman of the Civil Administration confirmed yesterday that the village of Bil'in is located in Area B, which is under Israel's full security control, and that Israeli citizens are allowed to visit there.

On the same day that Glick signed the sworn statement, the well-known land dealer Shmuel Anav appeared before him and also signed a sworn statement pertaining to that same plot. Anav, too, explained that the reasons it was impossible to bring an authorization by the mukhtar are the "security situation" and the prohibition on entering areas A and B.

In the section for "detailing the evidence" on which the Land of Israel Midrasha Foundation is basing its demand to register the plot in its name, Anav declared that "the owner sold it to his son and the son sold it to the Society of the Foundation." The owner died several years ago. His son, Sami, who according to inhabitants of Bil'in forged their signatures, was murdered in Ramallah at the beginning of 2005. Had the police taken the claim of the Bil'in inhabitants seriously and examined the propriety of the sworn statements given in their mukhtar's name, with a dubious security excuse, the police would have found that the name of Anav has been linked to land deals that have turned out to be land theft.

He starred in the affair of Nebi Samuel, the neighborhood that hit the headlines 10 years ago during former minister Aryeh Deri's trial. Plia Albeck, for years was the director of the civil department at the Justice Ministry, testified that a building company owned by settlers called Moreshet Binyamin had purchased from Anav 200 dunams of the land in the area of northern Jerusalem, and that he had purchased them from an Arab named Shehada Barakat, who testified that he owned the lands - but it turned out that he had sold lands that belonged to his relatives. Three years earlier Anav was convicted of soliciting donations from land dealers for the Likud's election campaign, "with the condition and expectation that in return the donors would receive benefits."

The Justice Ministry has responded that "property will be considered government property as long as the opposite has not been proven. Hence, it is possible to declare that privately owned land is government property, only if the owners of the land have asked the Custodian of Government Property to manage the property."

Michael Ben Yair, who was the attorney general in Yitzhak Rabin's government, has told Haaretz that he never approved turning private lands into government lands, and that this is the first time he has heard of this procedure.

Attorney Talia Sasson was also surprised to hear that the Civil Administration has served as the settlers' land laundry. This is not to say that the author of the report on the illegal outposts does not know that the Civil Administration serves the settlement project in the territories. In a lecture at University of Haifa, which dealt with the non-implementation of the recommendations of the outposts report (the chairman of the committee for implementing the recommendations, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, has not yet found time to submit its recommendations to the government), Sasson related yesterday to the contribution of the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration in particular to the establishment of the settlements in the territories.

"The Civil Administration was established because under the international law that applies in the territories, the commander of the area is obligated to take care of the `protected' population in the area, that is to say the Palestinians who were there when the IDF entered the territory," the attorney explained. "Over the years the Civil Administration became the main body that dealt with all the matters of the Israeli settlement in the territories, not mainly the Palestinians, but in fact the Israelis," she said. It allocates lands to settlers, declares lands to be state lands, approves the connecting of water and electricity to the settlements and more.

Sasson said: "In effect, it is the Civil Administration that enables in practice the acts of the Israeli settlement in the territories."

Sasson emphasized that the Civil Administration is subordinate to the IDF - on the one hand to the GOC and on the other to the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, who wears a uniform. "It emerges that the body by means of which the governments have been acting over the years concerning the implementation of settlements is a body that is subordinate to and run by the IDF (and at its head is a brigadier general). This mingling of the IDF and the settlement project is a bad and damaging mingling."

All according to a master plan

In the process of preparing a new report that deals with the expansion of settlements under cover of the separation fence, researchers from B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and from Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights were able to lay their hands on the map of "The Master Plan of the Upper Modi'in Area" for the year 2020. The map confirms that it is not only security issues that interested the planners of the route of the fence in the area of the battles for Bil'in. They were so hungry they "forgot" that security needs make it essential to keep a suitable distance between the fence and the nearest Jewish locale. It turns out that in addition to the usual master plans, at the initiative of the Construction and Housing Ministry and in cooperation with the planning bureau of the Civil Administration, in 1998 the Upper Modi'in local council and the Matteh Binyamin regional council drew up a master plan for the whole bloc. The plan does not have statutory validity, but it is a guiding document in the framework of which the planning policy is determined for a given area, and in the light of which the master plans are formulated. The report points out that under the master plan about 600 dunam adjacent to the plan for Matityahu East, which are owned by families from the village of Bil'in, are slated for the construction of 1,200 new housing units. Less than two months ago inhabitants of Bil'in discovered that a new road had been cut through from the Matityahu East neighborhood to a large grove of olive trees that is located in the area.

The village council filed a complaint with the Shai (Samaria-Judea) police about the uprooting of about 100 trees and their theft. The cutting through of the road reinforces the suspicion that under cover of the fence, there is a plan for a takeover of the land adjacent to the East Matityahu neighborhood, which is already in the process of construction.

Similarly, cultivated lands owned by the villagers of Dir Qadis and Ni'alin on an area of about 1,000 dunams, adjacent to the plan for Matityahu North C, have been added in the framework of the master plan to the plan for the neighborhood.

The authors of the report note that the master plan for Upper Modi'in arouses a strong suspicion that one of the covert aims of the fence is to cause Palestinian inhabitants to stop cultivating lands that are intended for the expansion of the Jewish settlements, to enable the declaration of them as state lands. Hence, as described above, the way to the building companies is very short.



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