The Demolition Fast Track

Judea and Samaria Division officers and Civil Administration heads will have to sign on to the standing army for many years to learn what Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak has forgotten about the outpost theory. Barak completed his preparatory course as GOC Central Command; he finished his internship as chief of staff; he received his doctorate as prime minister and defense minister. He knows that uprooting an existing outpost hurts more than pulling a tooth, and it is therefore worth investing in preventative treatment.

The day after he entered the Defense Ministry, Barak gave the order that structures, mobile homes and shipping containers erected in the West Bank without permits not be permitted to see the light of day. He said he would not allow the existence of "disputed buildings," like the Jewish settlers' compound in Hebron that was established and populated right under the nose of the Israel Defense Forces. The ignorance, whether intentional or the result of negligence, of the new enterprise dragged the security establishment and attorney general into legal proceedings, whose outcome is unknown. The military appeals commission has not yet found the time to deliberate the settlers' appeals, whereas the High Court of Justice will hear the Palestinians' petition tomorrow.

According to a source close to Barak, ministerial permission will no longer be required to dismantle new structures. However, Barak's new order is just a tiny plug in one of the many holes Talia Sasson?s outpost report proposed closing two years ago. Sasson pointed to the construction of entire outposts on Palestinian-owned land. As published here, the Sasson committee last convened during (Kadima MK) Haim Ramon's brief stint as justice minister. Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni left this hot potato to the next in line.

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann is stubbornly refusing to implement the government's decision that places him at the head of the committee. A communique from the Prime Minister's Bureau on June 11 stated "we are aware of the problems that have emerged in this context. It is our intention to act to resolve the matter in the very near future in coordination with the Labor Party chairman-elect and the defense minister, whoever they may be."

Meanwhile, life is business as usual for the settlers. While everyone is making noise about the "illegal outposts," the land thieves are turning to dealing quietly with the "legal" settlements. The Civil Administration has told Haaretz that even houses in a veteran settlement like Ofra, where settler leaders live, are built on private Palestinian land. Civil Administration spokesman Captain Tzidki Maman told Haaretz that "in addition to the expropriated territory that constitutes a considerable part of the area of the settlement, there are a number of plots purchased by the Himnuta Company and registered in the Land Registry in its name. However, it should be noted that throughout the years, some of the construction in the settlement deviated from the area of the expropriated lands." He noted that "some of the buildings in Ofra were erected on private lands" (meaning legally registered in the Land Registry in the names of Palestinian owners). The Civil Administration spokesman cited "various reasons" in refusing to relate to the number of buildings or to provide details about the owners of the lands.

However, a document prepared by the Civil Administration at the end of 2006, the main points of which were published on June 5 by Uri Blau, reveals what is hiding behind "some of the buildings." The reference is to no less than 179 out of about 600 households in the settlement (nearly every third home).

The Civil Administration also refused to tell Dror Etkes, who until Sunday was the head of Peace Now's Settlement Watch, whether a confiscation order for the lands on which Ofra sits had been issued or to provide a copy of that order and a detailed map of its boundaries.

"Regarding anywhere else within the State of Israel," says Etkes, "the Land Registry is open for public viewing. Only in the territories of the West Bank is it defined as a state secret. The claim of land ownership anonymity is a means the state and its settler agents have created to limit the public and legal oversight of the phenomenon of land theft. This is an attempt to conceal conduct that can only be defined as a mafia state."

Labor MK Amir Peretz proved that even a defense minister who was a graduate of Peace Now was incapable of bothering settler leader Ze'ev Hever and his pals. It would be interesting to know what Barak promised his fervent supporter Yariv Oppenheimer, the secretary general and spokesman of Peace Now, and how far the new defense minister is prepared to go in the struggle to enforce the law in the territories, which are his responsibility, and against the prime minister.

The victory in the war to release the transcripts of the Winograd Committee testimonies reminded Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On that the transcripts of the Cohen Commission, which investigated the events of the first Lebanon War, were still classified. The Meretz faction leader decided that the time had come to embark on a campaign to reveal the full truth about the events of Sabra and Chatila.

The first arrow was fired in the direction of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. If Mazuz doesn't take action, as in the case of Winograd, Gal-On will drag him to the Supreme Court. "On the Winograd Committee matter, the High Court of Justice emphasized the public's right to know as a basic right that has high status," Gal-On wrote Mazuz. "Obviously this precedent applies to an affair that occurred a quarter of a century ago. Had the requested material been available before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, it is possible this might have helped prevent mistakes and blunders that were made during the course of that war."

Gal-On relies here on Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia's remarks in the Winograd report ruling: "In case of a conflict between the principle of public scrutiny and contrary interests, the principal of the public nature of discussion retains the primary status of a supreme right ... The rule is openness to the public; the exception to it is state security or another recognized exception that reflects a weighty public interest."

This is not the first time Gal-On has addressed the transcripts and testimonies of the Cohen Commission. In January 2001, on the eve of the prime ministerial elections, she asked then prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak to act to release the transcripts. She also asked then attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein to clarify his position on the question of lifting immunity, considering that the report dealt with events concerning Ariel Sharon, the Likud candidate for prime minister. When she received no reply, Gal-On petitioned the High Court of Justice. The petition was rejected after the state said that a panel of experts would be established for purpose of formulating an opinion. However, the court noted, "the way is open for the petitioner to apply to this court again on this matter, should the need arise."

In June 2002, the government decided to adopt the panel's recommendation to maintain the Cohen Commission's position not to publish the transcripts of their meetings, which were held in camera and comprised Appendix II to the commission?s report. It also adopted the panel's recommendation to review the issue in five years. The five-year period ended last week.

Gal-On says it is not her intention to attack Sharon, and that the transcripts she seeks deal not only with Sharon but also with all of the first Lebanon War.

Former religious affairs minister Aharon Abuhatzeira was the first senior public personality to receive an indictment (for accepting bribery). Then, too, in the spring of 1981, the media wanted to see a powerful person led in handcuffs from the witness stand to prison.

Then, too, as in the Aryeh Deri affair and on the margins of the Katsav affair, the ethnic demon reared its ugly head.

The testimony the state's witness, Bnei Brak mayor Yisrael Gottlieb, gave to the investigators seemed nearly perfect. No less so than the testimony of A. from the President?s Residence.

The attorney general at the time, Yitzhak Zamir, and state prosecutor Gabriel Bach, both of whom were eventually tapped as Supreme Court justices, decided that the evidence was sufficient to risk opening criminal proceedings against a cabinet minister, lifting his immunity and suspending him. Abuhatzeira's top lawyers tore Gottlieb to shreds and he collapsed on the witness stand.

"His lying answers are what exhausted him during the course of defense?s cross-examination,? ruled Justice Yehudah Cohen."

Then Supreme Court president, Justice Eliezer Goldberg, said harsh things about Abuhatzeira: "The moral decline has not skipped over someone who took part in determining the country's fate, and this is a sign of what we can expect if this decline is not halted."

Abuhatzeira was acquitted due to reasonable doubt, but left the Jerusalem District Court on the shoulders of his admirers (and a year later was convicted in a different case). The prosecution was not the only one to emerge from this case embarrassed. The media did not come out clean either.

The court ruled that the accused had been the victim of character assassination: "It is desirable that the police take measures to prevent delicate and sensitive details from such investigations finding their way to the media."

Of course no two criminal cases are identical. However, a senior attorney involved in the Abuhatzeira case says that, as in that case, the prosecution in the Katsav case had to consider whether a key witness who looked excellent before the defense's cross-examination would look terrible afterward.

This lesson, he says, is especially valid in sexual assault cases based on the testimony of a complainant who approaches the police years after the incident. He says that the earlier the women's complaints against Katsav landed on Mazuz's desk, the greater his leaning was toward filing an indictment. A. and her attorney are suggesting that victims of sexual assault not complain, whereas the senior attorney recommendeds "running to complain as fast as you can".