Several years ago — the precise date is disputed ‘ the settler Michael Lessens began invading private Palestinian lands near his settlement, Qdumim, and fence them for his private needs. As Lessens would later explain, he wasn’t acting on his own initiative. He received directions from the council of Qdumim to seize lands and till them, so that the settlement may later expand onto them. In papers which would come before the HCJ, and which were originally presented to the Civil Administration’s appeals committee in the Military Court at Camp Ofer, Lessens stated that he signed the council’s officials on documents showing they gave him an order to grab the lands.
In 2007, Lessens began fencing the lands, i.e. tried to stake his claim and prevent the legal owners from accessing them. The result was a legal process, in which the owners of the lands were represented by Yesh Din’s legal team. At the same time, the police began an investigation against Lessens and others for suspicion of criminal trespassing. At first we turned to the Chief of the Civil Administration, who ordered Lessens to stop using the lands. Lessens appealed, showing the appeals committee the statements saying he was instructed to take over the lands; the committee accepted the appeal in a majority vote. The Chief of the Civil Administration rejected its decision, and ruled that the eviction order against Lessens is valid. Lessens, in response, appealed to the HCJ, which was also dealing with an appeal by the residents of Qaddum, represented by Yesh Din, who demanded Lessens’ eviction.
Lessens had the nerve to claim that since he held the lands for more than a decade, then according to Ottoman land law – or, rather, Lessens’ perverted version of it – they belong to him, by virtue of possession and tilling. The HCJ rejected Lessens’ appeal on 30th March, 2012, and accepted the petition of the residents of Qaddum. The court had some choice words for Lessens:
“Respondent 3 was interrogated by the Appeals Committee about his statement, and his words show he was tilling the land under instruction of the Qdumim Local Council, even though he knew it did not own the land; According to him, council officials instructed him to work the land out of security considerations and in order to create land reserves for future expansion by the council. These words tell us that Respondent 3 knew neither he nor the council had rights to the land when he entered it and began working it, and hence it is himself who showed that his possession of the land is not honest possession. There is no argument that the Qdumim Local Council has no right in the lands dealt with in this petition, which are beyond the council’s jurisdiction. Hence, it could not have the authority to instruct Respondent 3 to work the land. The admission by Respondent 3 that he worked the land according to the council’s instructions, knowing that it does not possess them, and for the reasons cited, by itself denies his claim of possession and indicates that Respondent 3 invaded the land knowingly and with malice.” The emphasis is mine. The HCJ also noted that Lessens abused the legal process.
One part of the case ended well: Lessens was evicted from the lands he occupied in May 2012, some two months after the verdict. The criminal case, however, went differently. Complaints about Lessens’ criminal behavior were lodged back in 2007. However, the police prosecution refused to make a decision in the case until the HCJ’s ruling. After the latter’s unequivocal ruling, the police prosecution took its time to think about it, and in October 2012 – more than six months after the ruling – informed us they decided to close the case “for lack of public interest.”
Really? One might have thought the public would have some interest in a felon who invaded lands for a long period, while harming the livelihood of several families. One might think that an ambitious prosecutor would be rather interested in the precise details of the deal Lessens allegedly made with senior officials in the Qdumim Local Council. One might think that the prosecution, as well as the public, would have significant interest in finding out what position is held today by the person who, according to Lessens, gave him those instructions, and if he still gives such instructions.
One might have thought? Better have another think coming. The police prosecution is not interested. And the public? It has no inkling what its servants are doing behind its back.