Police probing property sale in Ofra

WZO's former Settlement Division allegedly sold rights to private Palestinian land in W. Bank town.

ofra 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ofra 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Police have opened a criminal probe into the the World Zionist Organization's former Settlement Division and the Partnership Association of Ofra for allegedly selling the rights to private Palestinian land in the Ofra settlement, the Attorney-General's Office told the Yesh Din organization in a letter earlier this month. Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights released the letter to the media on Saturday, but police on Saturday evening were unable to confirm that an investigation was in fact under way. The Settlement Division formerly operated under the auspices of the World Zionist Organization. Since 2007, it has been subordinate to the Agriculture Ministry. Its changing status means it remains unclear which organization is officially responsible for the division's activities in question. A Jewish Agency source told The Jerusalem Post that the Settlement Division had until 2007 been linked only in name to the World Zionist Organization (itself a part of the Jewish Agency), adding that the arrangement allowed successive governments to fully control the division without having to take responsibility for its actions. "After the Six Day War, the government did not know how to handle land over the Green Line. So it took a non-government apparatus like the World Zionist Organization, which was responsible for settling the desert, and set up the division under a section of the WZO," the source said. "The Settlement Division has nothing to do with the Jewish Agency. Not one penny of Jewish Agency donor money or philanthropic activity is channelled to the division. Even the WZO budget does not include the Settlement Division," the source added. No Agriculture Ministry spokesman was available for comment on Saturday evening. Neither Avi Ro'eh, who heads the Binyamin Regional Council, where Ofra is located, nor Pinchas Wallerstein, director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, had any comment on the matter. Both men said they had not heard of the investigation. Dror Etkes, director of Yesh Din's Land Project, told the Post he had been notified of the investigation by the Attorney-General's Office in response to a letter he sent it in June, requesting that criminal proceedings be opened against both the Partnership Association of Ofra and the WZO. Etkes told the Post he based his request on a copy of a signed sales contract for one of nine plots where homes were subsequently illegally built in Ofra. According to that contract, the Partnership Association of Ofra, which was transferring property rights to a plot of land in Ofra to a private buyer, had received rights to the property from the WZO. But the WZO could not have had the legal right to the property because both the High Court of Justice and government reports had previously stated that Palestinians from the nearby village of Ein Yabrud owned the property, Etkes said. In his letter, he accused the WZO of "serious fraud" and "land theft." He said that even the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria had recognized that the construction was illegal and had issued demolition orders against the homes. Still, at the end of May, the Defense Ministry told the High Court of Justice that it had no intention of demolishing the homes for the time being.