A Top U.S. Donor to Netanyahu Bought West Bank Land — but Palestinians Are Claiming Fraud

Duty free tycoon Simon Falic bought a plot near the settlement of Beit El, but the family of the original land owner says the documents don't match up

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Israeli soldiers at the plot of land at the center of the case near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, June 2, 2020.
Israeli soldiers at the plot of land at the center of the case near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, June 2, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The plot of land near the West Bank settlement of Beit El reveals nothing of the drama surrounding it. On one side, Palestinians who claim that the land was fraudulently sold, and on the other, a company headed by elite members of the settlement movement. In the middle is a Jewish-American millionaire who is a regular contributor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settlements, who, it turns out, owns the land.

LISTEN: High priests, holy smoke and cannabis in the TempleCredit: Haaretz

The judge hearing the case in a pre-trial motion said the deed of sale of the land — which has no buildings and little vegetation — “raises question marks.”

The affair began in December 2003 when, according to documents presented in court, the original land owner, the late Sadki Hamdan of the neighboring village of Dura al-Qar’, signed over irrevocable power of attorney to Doron Nir-Tvi, a lawyer who lives in the West Bank outpost of Havat Yair. In this document, Hamdan allegedly authorized Nir-Zvi to transfer ownership of his land to another Palestinian, the late Ramadan Abu Halal, who then allegedly signed an agreement transferring the land to an American businessman, Simon Falic.

However, according to the documents, the agreement with Falic was made in November 2003, although Abu Halal had allegedly only received the rights to the land a month later.

On the power of attorney that Hamdan allegedly signed is the stamp of a notary public from East Jerusalem, Abed Asli. However, Asli submitted an affidavit to the court in which he said no such document was ever signed in his presence.

The plot of land at the center of the case near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, June 2, 2020.

In July 2018, Hamdan’s heirs filed suit in the Jerusalem District Court in which their attorney, Husam Younis, claimed that the deal to sell the land was fraudulent. The suit was originally filed only against the heirs of Abu Halal, Palestinians who live in the village of Abu Dis near Jerusalem, because the Civil Administration informed the family that Abu Halal had been the person who purchased the land and it had been registered to his same for a time.

Later, the family discovered that the registered owner of the land was a company called Hakeren Liyad Midreshet Yisrael, which was established in 1982, and added this company to the suit. The company’s board of directors has included over the years key settler figures, including Benny Katzover, former head of the Shomron Regional Council, and the late Zvi Slonim, a former secretary of the settler movement Gush Emunim among others.

Although the deed of sale was allegedly signed between Falic and Abu Halal, Falic is not a party in the case. His name only came up when Hakeren representatives attempted to absolve themselves of responsibility for the sale, claiming that it had only been a trustee for purposes of registration of ownership of the land for Falic, and complaints should be directed to him.

Shada Hamdan, Sadki Hamdan’s granddaughter, told Haaretz that her family discovered by chance that ownership of the land had been transferred from her grandfather when they asked the Civil Administration to issue updated documentation of the land’s registration after one of the heirs died. She said she suspected the sale was fraudulent when she saw his signature. Her grandfather had signed his will “Sadki Abu al-Aziz Mastif Hamdan,” while the signature on the power of attorney has the name “Mustafa” instead of Mastif. The family does not visit the land, she added, because of its close proximity to the settlement.

Abu Halal’s heirs responded that they also believed that the deal was not authentic and that before they were sued, they did not even know the land had been registered to Abu Halal.

Falic, who is a contributor not only to Netanyahu but also to American politicians, including President Donald Trump, has been one of the most prominent supporters of settlements for the past 15 years. He and his two brothers control the duty free retail empire Duty Free Americas from Miami, as well as businesses in Israel and beyond the green line.

Simon and Jana Falic in Jerusalem, 2019.Credit: Tsafrir Abayov/AP

The Falics have transferred millions to the settlements through an organization called the Segal Foundation, and before that through an American foundation. The family’s contributions have gone to members of the Jewish community of Hebron, the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva in Jerusalem and an association founded by Bentzi Gopstein, a figure affiliated with the radical right in Israel.

Why would Falic buy land in that location? The answer might be in the proximity of the plot to Beit El. In 2006, the Falic family’s foundation in the United States donated $100,000 to the American friends’ association of the Beit El Yeshiva. And over the years, the Segal Foundation, the family’s Israeli foundation, donated at least another $40,000 to the Beit El Yeshiva.

A source involved in the case confirmed to Haaretz that the land was purchased to expand the settlement.

According to this source, the settlers showed video documentation that past land deals alleged to have been fraudulent really did take place. However, this deal was not documented this way, the source added. Falic told Haaretz that details of the purchase would be presented in court and that his family is “proud to own various lands and businesses throughout Judea and Samaria.”

The request by Hakeren Liyad Midreshet Yisrael that Falic be named in the suit stated that the need for trustees for the deal arose because the only legal way for a Jew to buy land in the West Bank is through an entity registered in the registrar of companies in the region.

Judge Anat Zinger rejected this argument and ruled that the agreement presented by Hakeren was not a trusteeship agreement, but rather a letter that it sent to Falic that absolves it of responsibility for the deal. She also noted that Falic had not signed the letter in the place designated for his signature.

The judge also noted that Hakeren had requested that the suit be dismissed due to the statute of limitations, a request she rejected, and noted that the request itself showed that it had an interest in the matter.

Falic wrote in response: “Because litigation is pending, I am limited in what I can say regarding the property outside of Beit El. Details about the purchase of the property some 17 years ago will be presented to the Court. I am confident that the case will be dismissed in short order. It seems ironic, however, that only in Israel will a Jew’s purchase of land be frivolously challenged 17 years after the fact. My family is proud to own various lands and businesses throughout Judea and Samaria, and also ‘across the Green Line,’ in places such as Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Herzliya, and Haifa.”

Attorney Avraham Moshe Segal, who represents Hakeren, said in response that the suit was baseless, and filed long after the statute of limitations had expired. “The litigant in this suit is the Palestinian Authority, a racist terror authority that imposes a death penalty one anyone selling land to a Jew. The case is being heard in the Jerusalem District Court and not in the newspaper and our full arguments will be presented there.”

The Civil Administration declined to comment, stating that the case was ongoing.

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