The story was supposed to be simple: Yoel Tzur, the CEO of the Company for the Development of the Yeshiva Town in Beit El (we dealt with this shady company here) admitted during his interrogation by the police that he built what would come to be known as “Ulpana Hill” on private Palestinian land which he had no valid purchase contract for. Tzur told the police he began the construction in 1998, and that by 2000 he thought he obtained a contract for the land, which turned out to be a forgery. That is, Tsur himself says he begun the construction violations two years before he even thought he had a contract. Everything was done on private land, and not just that (it’s Palestinians’, who cares?) – as was exposed in the press (Hebrew), Tzur also misled the buyers, good Jews who preferred not to ask a few questions a reasonable buyer would.
But the police preferred closing the case. Citing, with chutzpah, the “no criminal guilt” clause. That was impressive even by the usual standards of the SJPD (Shomron and Judea Police District). As part of Tzur’s investigation, the investigators came to an uncomfortable proximity to Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever, whose hand is in every plate. Tzur, during his interrogation, connected Hever’s communal society – Amana – to the land purchase that never took place. Hever denied it. The police, who interrogated him as a witness and not as a suspect, did not bother to do what was expected of it and search Amana’s offices or its computers. This, after all, comes too close to the centers of power. Hever is not the only powerful man involved: the lawyer who edited the purchase documents, which turned out to be forged, is David Rotem. You may know him as MK David Rotem, former head of the Law, Constitution and Justice Knesset Committee. Do the cops look for trouble? No, so they closed the case.
We expected little of the SJPD. Its expertise, after all, is botching investigations, at which it is quite successful. Turns out there’s nothing much to expect of the prosecution. We appealed the police’s decision on December 14th, 2010, more than three years ago. We demanded the investigation be completed and that Tzur be indicted.
We now have to appeal to the courts, since so far the prosecution failed to reach a decision in our appeal. That means that this simple appeal has been stuck for more than three years.
So what’s really going on? It’s hard to avoid suspicion that the prosecution, which long ago forgot about “ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger as one for your own country,” and which deleted “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee” years ago, is now leisurely working at turning “thou shall not honor the person of the mighty” into a dead letter as well, and by the easiest method of all – inaction.
The violation of which Tzur is suspect, and for which if indicted he may open his mouth and jeopardy the careers of the mighty, is a misdemeanor. It will come under the statute of limitations five years after the last investigation in the case. This took place on November 5th, 2009. The prosecution, then, just needs to while the time away until November 5th, 2014, and all of this will melt away.
The process of settlement, since the times of the Park Hotel onwards, is mainly based on deception, lies and theft. Any child will tell you that the Israeli police is a broken tool. But when the prosecution collaborates, admittedly by inaction, with posh land thieves, this is an attack on what’s left of the trust in the rule of law.
And another point, which may rouse the prosecution from its slumber: by avoiding an indictment of the criminals in the Ulpana Hill case, it does not only lets an offense of land theft slide away. It also harms the rights of the Palestinians, as a population living under occupation, to protection according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. That is, it’s playing close to the border of war crimes.
When we face a normal court, all we have are laws and procedures. Sometimes, admittedly, they lead to transcendence: I doubt there is any other court aside from the Israeli HCJ which could write such an awe-inspiring sentence as Meir Shamgar’s “the Wachmann John Ivan Demanjuk goes free from before our bench,” in which the jurist submits to the dry law, letting justice slide away, knowing that if he lets justice run roughshod over law, he opens the floodgates to vigilante justice; that justice’s submission to law is, all too often, the price we pay to avoid having our society descend to the level of Michael Kohlhaas, where man is wolf to man. But just as often, law overrides justice not for the benefit of society, but of the mighty.
But there is also another court. The poet Auden wrote lines he would come to regret, about history kindly judging those who master words (“Time wthat with this strange excusepardons Kipling for his viewsand will pardon Paul Claudelpardons him for writing well…”). One may be permitted in thinking that history, which takes a dim vim of jurists who turn judgment into mischief, will have some unkind words for the legal technocrats who by delaying tactics and splitting hairs deny the rights of people living under occupation to maintain the remains of their rights against their occupiers, for those who transformed the law from a tool of striving for justice to one protecting theft and thieves.