Police: Hebron purchase papers forged

Knesset's State Control Committee asks Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to investigate.

Hebron building 248.88 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Hebron building 248.88
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Many of the documents allegedly attesting that Jewish settlers purchased a building on Worshipers' Way in Hebron are forged, the head of the police team investigating the transaction told the Knesset State Control Committee on Wednesday. "The purchasers presented documents that had allegedly been stamped in Jericho," Dep.-Cmdr Shlomo Efrati told the committee. "These stamps were forged." Wednesday's meeting was convened at the request of a subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Recently, it called on the State Control Committee to consider asking State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to investigate the complicated affair. At the end of an hour-and-a-half-long session, the committee members voted to ask Lindenstrauss to do so. Efrati's statement was met with open skepticism by most of the MKs who attended the meeting. Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) pointed out angrily that in May, Cmdr. Yitzhak Rahamim, Efrati's superior in the Judea and Samaria Police District, had told the Knesset Interior Committee that all the purchasers' documents except one were legitimate. Orlev also charged that the government was pursuing a left-wing agenda that included opposition to the Jewish presence in the building and that the state's law enforcement agencies, including the state prosecution and the police, were bending to the government's will. Orlev added that he had no faith in the High Court of Justice. On March 29, settlers moved into the building without opposition from either the army or police, claiming they had bought it from its Palestinian owner. Had the state been certain that the settlers were lying, it could have evicted them according to the procedure known as a "recent trespass." But since the matter was not certain, the state ordered the police to investigate the settlers' claim. In the meantime, however, the head of the Civil Administration refused to grant the owners' application for a permit recognizing the transaction. Without the permit, the takeover of the building was illegal, and the Civil Administration issued an eviction order on that basis. The head of the Civil Administration acknowledged during Wednesday's hearing that he had rejected the application according to a directive by then-defense minister Amir Peretz. The settlers appealed the Civil Administration's refusal to grant the permit, and the military appeals court is still considering the matter. In the meantime, the Palestinian who claimed that he owned the house and had not sold it petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the state to evict the settlers. In its first reply to the petition, the state said it was investigating the ownership dispute, but added that the takeover could not be considered a "recent takeover." Later, however, it submitted a second response, saying that the occupation of the building by the settlers was indeed a "recent takeover" and that it would evict the settlers. Immediately afterward, the Civil Administration issued the eviction order and postponed implementation by two days to give the settlers time to petition the High Court. Attorney Nadav Ha'etzni, representing the settlers, filed a petition. During Wednesday's committee meeting, it emerged that the police investigation of the ownership dispute had not ended. Efrati said that while the police had found that many of the alleged purchasers' documents were forged, the Palestinian who claimed he had not sold the building was shown to have lied several times during the investigation. The committee decided that since there were so many unanswered questions in this affair and because several members suspected that the government - along with the state prosecution, the police and the courts - were trying to enforce a left-wing agenda, it would ask the apolitical state comptroller to investigate the matter. During the meeting, MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) suggested that the committee ask Lindenstrauss to also examine the government's conduct regarding the establishment of the illegal outposts. It turned out that the committee had discussed attorney Talia Sasson's report on the issue two-and-a-half years earlier, but nothing had come of that meeting. Orlev promised to check whether the committee had asked the state comptroller at that time to investigate the matter, as it was now asking him to investigate the government's handling of the dispute over the building in Hebron. Vilan said that if it had not done so then, he would call on the committee to do so now.