Settlers Say They Bought Outpost Land, One Year After Palestinian Owner's Death

New appeal by 17 residents of the West Bank settlement of Migron, due to be demolished next month, cite 2012 acquisition papers; Palestinian owner died in 2011.

Residents of the condemned West Bank outpost of Migron have appealed the High Court to stay the demolition of the settlement's illegal structures on Tuesday, claiming that they had recently purchased the land on which the homes were built.

However, a preliminary inspection of the purported sale reveals that the Palestinian whom the settlers claim sold them the land passed away in 2011, one year before the alleged transaction.

Citing what they said was their desire to keep the identity of the seller unknown, the 17 appellants, represented by Zeev Scharf, asked the High Court to submit the sale's documentation in a sealed envelope.

According to the appeal, the acquisition was conducted by the al-Watan development firm, which is owned by the Mateh Binyamin Development Company, who, in return, is owned by the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council in the West Bank.

Al-Watan officials have claimed to have bought Migron's lands in the past. However, a police investigation at the time revealed that the purchase was false, interrogating the firm's heads. The case was closed due to a lack of evidence.

The appellants claim ownership over Migron's lot 2 of block 7, as well as of lot 10 of block 26, who they said they purchased from "the registered owner in March 20, 2012."

The owner of these lots was part of the original 2006 High Court appeal against the outpost. However, the owner died in 2011, making it impossible to sell his lands in March 2012. Ownership of the land has been passed on to his sons.

In addition, the appellants claim that they had purchased a part of lot 23 of block 26, which settlers claimed in back in 2004 to have purchased from Aber el-Ma’atan, who they said resides in the United States.

However, el-Ma’atan passed away in 1969, prompting the police to determine at the time that his signature on 2004 acquisition papers was forged.

Despite this, as part of the attempts to stave off the outpost's evacuation, al-Watan appealed the Jerusalem District Court, asking to register that lot to its name. Now, the same firm is turning to the High Court, citing what it says is a new acquisition of the same lot.

As a result, the firm is in effect leading two separate legal procedures in reference to the same exact tract of land, in each claiming a different purchase than in the other.

Regardless, even if these purchases will be found to be legitimate, they still do not constitute proof of settler ownership over 80 percent of Migron's lands, as residents have claimed in the past, but around 33 percent.

In the appeal, Scharf wrote that his clients wish to put an injunction on demolition work, planned next month, saying that "the evacuation of the said lands, before giving the court an opportunity to discuss and rule on the appeal, will injure the appellants' rights in a real and irrevocable way."

"We fear that the appellants will be taken out of their homes, and that structures in which they have lived with their children for years, will be demolished," he added.

Now, the ball moves to the State Prosecutor's Office's court.

On Thursday, the settlers sent a letter to the State Prosecutor's Office's as well as to the Defense Ministry, in which they announce the acquisition of lands.

On Tuesday, a meeting of legal experts is planned, assembled to discuss the state's position on the new appeal.

It’s expected that the settlers will continue to press politicians to stave off the demolition, until being able to verify the veracity of these documents as well as their possible consequences.

I should be noted that regarding the Givat Asaf, the state asked for a seven-month extension before demolishing the outpost, in order to inspect newly presented acquisition papers.

In response to the new appeal, left-leaning NGO Peace Now said that "just as it was a mistake to believe the claim by Migron residents that the land had no owners, thus one mustn't believe their claims regarding the allegedly legal acquisition of outpost land."

"The false appeal is meant to force the State Prosecutor's Office to ask for another delay of the outpost's evacuation, as was the case in other outposts, such as Givat Asad," he added.

Spokesmen for the outpost said that it could now "be confirmed that Migron residents purchased significant portions of Migron's land from the owners registered in the tabu."

"Yesterday, we turned to the High Court in order to try and reduce the ruling's execution. The appeal was placed under gag order, and so we won't refer to the details of the deal ," adding that the "court is the only authority able to determine the rightness of our claim," and not Peace Now activists, who, like ideological outlaws, have chosen to explicitly defy a court order."

Construction in the new Migron settlement outpost
Emil Salman