A fraud squad investigation has revealed that 14 of 15 supposed real estate acquisitions made by Al-Watan, a company run by pro-settlement activist Ze’ev Hever and owned by the right wing Amana, were forged.
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Details of the West Bank forgery industry were broadcast on Tuesday in an investigative report on the Channel 10 program HaMakor with Raviv Drucker.
In recent years, whenever the state sought to evacuate illegal outposts in the Binyamin region, Al-Watan officials would announce that they had bought the local lands from their Palestinian owners. The documents often turned out to be forged.
A police investigation that was opened in the case ended, and the case was transferred to the state prosecutor. The police did not interrogate Hever, but by questioning a chain of straw men it emerged that 14 of the 15 supposed deals were forged.
An investigative report by Raviv Drucker documents two Palestinians who acted as straw men for Al-Watan. The straw men would buy the lands from people using forged documents purpoting to be those of the real landowners (many of whom are no longer alive) and then transfer them to Amana in a fake deal.
One of them, Akram, said to the camera, “I signed on many plots and lands.” Referring to the land upon which the outpost of Amona was established he said: “I signed in Silwad," he said, referring to a West Bank Palestinian town northeast of Ramallah. "They told me there is land with such and such a number, and another plot with number sign. I signed so many times for many lands. I made five or six deals.”
He added: “I told them I am signing for all the Palestinians, but let me live in Israel because of my children. My children are in Israel, and I don’t see them, and I am always entering Israel and going to jail because I have no permit, and I tell them in the investigation that I am threatened. I have a problem in the Palestinian Authority, and I am threatened unless you let me live in Israel. I sold [land] because they would help me, and no one is helping me. I am suffering from complexes now.”
Straw men, cash suitcases
The two straw men attest that at the signing, an Israeli lawyer from Jerusalem, who was investigated in the case and who name is barred from publication under a gag order, handed them a suitcase with half a million shekels ($126,400). When they go outside, the lawyer takes the suitcase back. The goal is to fake a deal. Mohammed, one of the straw men who was interviewed, said that he sat with the lawyer in a restaurant, and afterwards went up to his office.
“He told me that this man’s friend cannot put the land under his name because of the Income Tax Authority,” he explained. “I signed on the papers and afterward he gave me a suitcase full of money and told me, ‘Take this.’ When I went downstairs, he took the money back and told me, ‘Take, this is what you get.’ That’s all.”
The investigative report documents attorney Eytan Lehman meeting with Akram at a gas station after he learned that Akram was speaking with Drucker, and instructs him to call him and tell him that he does not remember anything, without realizing that he was being recorded.
“The question is if you can have the conversation with him,” he said in the recording. “Tell him [Druker] perhaps I no longer remember he story blah blah blah, and then he will tell you: 'but don’t worry, I know the whole story.' Tell him what does he mean 'know the whole story,' for you don’t remember what I said to the police or something like that Try to get it out of him without him understanding.”
Hever responded by saying he does not have knowledge of the report's content.
Al Watan responded to the report, saying all of their land deals were done legally.