Monday, April 8

A small victory. Let's hope somebody actually enforces the judge's ruling

Israeli court orders settlers to return land to Palestinian owners

Judge deems sale of 100 dunams of land within the settlement of Alfei Menashe as fraudulent; key ruling further invalidates land laundering schemes that have grown prevalent in the West Bank.

The Tel Aviv District Court ordered 100 dunams of land within the settlement of Alfei Menashe returned to their Palestinian owners after ruling that the contracts purportedly documenting the sale of the land were forged.  The key ruling further invalidates a series of transactions made following the fraudulent sale.

The land in question originally belonged to Palestinians who fled to Jordan when the Israel Defense Forces entered the West Bank in 1967. The territory was categorized as abandoned, meaning the Civil Administration was given responsibility for the land until the owners returned.  Fraud involving abandoned land is common, since the owners have difficulty tracking their property from abroad.

In 2001, a company named G.R.A. ostensibly bought land from a Palestinian from Qalqilyah for $150,000. Then, in 2006, the deed to the land was transferred from G.R.A. to another company, Harei Bracha, which specialized in construction for the Haredi sector.
That year, the heirs of the land's original owners found out that it had been sold, and petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court, alleging fraud.

The ruling in the case was handed down this past Wednesday by judge Yehoshua Gaifman.
The judge sided with the Palestinian petitioners, ruling that the land should be re-registered under their names. He cited two reasons. First, the transactions were not cleared by the Civil Administration, as required under a 1967 order mandating that all West Bank land transactions be approved in order to prevent fraud.
Secondly, the judge cast doubt upon the authenticity of the transaction that facilitated the transfer of the land to Harei Bracha; he suggested that the supposed sale was a cover up that was meant allow the purchasing company to claim it had no knowledge of the original fraud.
Both companies denied any wrongdoing.

Gaifman's decision carries implications for all real estate deals made in the West Bank over the past two years.
The real estate division of the Yesha Council, which oversees the settlements, is working toward purchasing land on which illegal outposts are built, including Amona, Givat Assaf and Migron. None of these transactions have received Civil Administration approval.  Furthermore, the ruling asserts that individuals or groups who have not received approval for a land purchase will not be able to claim they were unaware that the transaction was forged, thus curbing the laundering schemes that have grown prevalent in recent years.

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