Shalom Achshav: Following Peace Now's Complaint, Three Suspects Arrested for Forged Land Purchases

Yesterday, the Israeli police arrested three suspects for using forged documents to purchase lands from Palestinians in the West Bank. The police investigation began following a complaint by Peace Now and Palestinian land owners during the High Court petition against the illegal outpost of Migron,after the settlers had provided forged documents to the court. This complaint, together with other cases in which settlers used forged documents to purchase lands in illegal outposts, resulted in a police investigation, leading to yesterday's arrests.

The individuals arrested are suspected of being involved in purchases made by the Al Watan Company (Homeland in Arabic), which has been established by the Company for the Development of the Binyamin Council and a by Binyanei Bar Amana in 2002. The head of Amana, Ze'ev Hever (also known as Zambish), is one of the directors of Al Watan (together with Hananya Nahliel and Moshe Yogev, another two prominent figures in Amana). The former Chair of the Binyamin Council, Pinchas Wallestein, was questioned in the past regarding Al Watan's purchases in Migron, which proved to be forged.
 

Al Watan has been involved in dozens of land purchases in the West Bank throughout the last decade. The majority of their operations are at the Ramallah area, in the outposts of Migron, Amona, Givat Assaf, Beit El and near the settlement of Ofra. Many of Al Watan's purchase were either canceled by the courts or were not registered in the Civil Administration due to suspicion of forgery, while others are still awaiting court decisions. In recent years, cooperation took place between members of Al Watan and the ElAd association, which are well known for purchasing Palestinian properties using straw men.

Forged documentations have been used in the courts in attempts to prevent the evacuation of illegal outposts. In many cases, despite the claims for forgery, the submission of such documents has led to lengthy postponements in evacuations of illegal outposts.
 
The method: Straw men and forged signatures
 
A Palestinian straw man (sometimes a Palestinian from the West Bank and others an Israeli citizen) "purchases" the land rights and immediately after sells it to the settlers' company, Al Watan.  In order to do that, the settlers identify a land owner whose signature could easily be forged - a person who either passed away recently or lives abroad and cannot testify that the signature is not his. In almost all of the purchases, the settlers argue that several months prior to the passing of the land owner, he signed a power of attorney and sold the land to the straw man. Following these sales, Al Watan purchases the lands and claims that it did so without knowing that the previous sale was a fraud. In most cases the land purchase attempts begin after the settlers have already taken over the land illegally, and while trying to retroactively legalize their construction. In many cases the purchase attempts are made following the submission of petitions to the High Court by the land owners or by organizations such as Peace Now.
 
Peace Now: "the arrests prove that the settler leadership has been systematically involved in criminal activity aimed at stealing lands, defrauding the High Court and establishing illegal outposts. Peace Now will continue to demand that all individuals related to these frauds, including members of the settler leadership, will be brought to justice."
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