Two weeks ago we reported once more to the halls of the Supreme Court, for yet another hearing about the removal of the illegal outpost, Amona. Even though the High Court of Justice (HCJ) has already decided that the entire outpost is to be evacuated, the settlers and the State have used every possible means to postpone the end of proceedings, perhaps even to vacate the Court’s judgment. The State informed the Court two weeks ago that it does not dispute the fact that the land on which Amona sits is private Palestinian land, nor does it believe that the residents of Amona (or their representatives) purchased said land; but due to political reasons, the State simply doesn’t feel like removing the outpost just now. In any case, claimed the State, the owners of the land did not come forward or show they had suffered any damage. That is, the State admits that a crime has occurred, but it does not intend to address it anytime soon.
One could compare it to a police officer being aware that a woman has been attacked by her husband, but since she refuses to press charges, he refuses to investigate the assault. The Prime Minister said firmly two weeks ago that “the law is the law” – unless, of course, the criminals are Israeli civilians assisting the government in annexing West Bank land.
But the real story exposed in the Court was not the well-documented cooperation between the State and the outposts’ land thieves; the real story is about forged documents.
As readers of this blog may remember, about five months ago the State claimed that the evacuation of parts of Amona must be prevented, since a settler company, Al Watan, claimed to have purchased parts of four of the plots on which the outpost rests. We noted at the time that Amona stretches over a large number of plots, and that the name, Al Watan, was mentioned at least three times in connection with the use of forged documents.
During the hearing before the HCJ, legal counsel for Yesh Din, Adv. Michael Sfard, noted that two complaints had been lodged with the police, claiming that two of the land purchases to be forged, and that there is a civil suit pending in the District Courts regarding three plots, demanding that Al Watan’s registration of purchase be revoked, given that it is the result of a fabrication. Adv. Sfard further argued that this is an “industry of fabrications,” whose goal is to prevent the evacuation of Amona via legal proceedings. Adv. Sfard also noted that the forgery was made possible only after we exposed the identity of some of the Palestinian land owners – by filing the petition in their names – and that this is a rather amateurish forgery. So far, this is plain reporting of a judicial proceeding.
How does it work? Simple. The settlers have been claiming since 1998 that they have purchase documents for land in Amona, but they have never presented any such documents. They did not possess any real purchase documents – the State admitted, we’ll remind you again, that Amona is built on private Palestinian land. The fabrication of such documents is complicated, given the fact that the land registry in the West Bank is not public. In order to forge documents, you need the names of the owners of the land, a piece of information exposed only after our petition was filed.
It’s important to note that the modus operandi of the residents of the outposts is well-known: As soon as a legal proceeding against an outpost reaches a conclusion, claims of land purchase suddenly appear. The police will reach the conclusion later that the claim has been fabricated, but by then the settlers will have bought themselves a few more years. In this case, the settlers know that even if years from now, the purchase claims of Amona will turn out to be forgeries, they will be enough to prolong the proceeding – which began in 2008 – for a few more years. We saw this in the Ulpana Hill case; we saw it in Migron. Would anyone be truly surprised if the Amona land claims turn out the same way?
The HCJ decided earlier this year that Amona was to be evacuated on July 15th. Less than two weeks prior to the final evacuation date, the State informed the Court of Al Watan’s purchase claims and managed to convince it to limit the evacuation of the outpost to only those plots regarding which there is no purchase claim. Then the Sate played dumb and claimed it thought it only had to evacuate one building and not the rest of the outpost.
This was early July. We’re now in late December. The documents now suspected as forgeries bought the settlers six months, at least. What is worrisome is the feeling that on the face of it, the State is collaborating with a fabrication. The State ought to have known, given the relevant history, that these claims are suspect; and yet it supported them and used them as a pretext to water down the July 15th evacuation, following the trick in which it claimed not to understand that it was to remove the entire outpost. This trick ended, however, with a contempt of court proceeding, in which the Court informed the State of its error.
Did the State know the documents were forged? Did it prefer not to know? Are its representatives truly naïve and out of touch with the reality on the ground, or do they just pretend to be? All possible answers are embarrassing.
A state which relies on documents presented by a company whose name has already been mentioned in connection with document forgery, and which produces such documents as an argument to the highest court of the land, is a state that comes perilously close to the end of the rule of law. A state which does not understand, or pretends not to understand, what such a step means, needs its soul searched stat.
What is to be done, then? Evacuate Amona. All of it. Yesterday. If the settlers have any claims – woe is me, the State cooperated with me and now is selling me down the river – let them sue the State. The stolen land must be restored to its owners.