The AP has done us a tremendous journalistic service (easily deserving of Pulitzer consideration) with a probing investigation of one particular instance of settler fraud that involved stealing privately owned Palestinian land for the illegal outpost of Migron:
The transformation of a piece of West Bank land from a Palestinian field into a Jewish settlement has roots in an unlikely place – Orange County, California – and in a document that a [Palestinian landowner] supposedly signed more than four decades after the date of his death.
Unfolding from the West Bank’s terraced olive groves to a strip mall in a Los Angeles suburb, the story of this posthumous deal offers a rare glimpse into the underworld of straw companies and middlemen through which chunks of land move from Palestinian to Israeli hands. Each transaction further complicates an Israeli withdrawal that would be key to any peace agreement.
…Such property deals are driven by the settlers’ belief the land is their God-given right; the cooperation of Israel’s governments…and cash from wealthy donors, many of them American Jews.
Here’s how the fraud unfolded:
…A 2004 document shows a Palestinian farmer named Abdel Latif Sumarin sold a plot long tended by his family near the village of Burqa, east of the city of Ramallah, to a company with an Arabic name. The paper contains Sumarin’s signature in clear English script and that of a California notary.
But an Associated Press investigation that made use of court papers, public records and interviews in the West Bank, Israel and the U.S., shows that the document is a poorly executed forgery.
Sumarin [n]ever visited America, his family says he couldn’t write English, and public records show he died in 1961. The notary in California says he did not sign the paper either.
One of the ironies of this case is that the real Abdel Latif Sumarin, whose fraudulent signature graces a transfer deed, was buried in 1961 on a hilltop overlooking what has since become Migron. If his spirit were there, he could see the very land that Jewish settlers have stolen from his family.
The fraudulent transaction actually occurred after the settlers had physically taken control of the land and created a settlement now containing 45 young families. It appears the fraud was like a backdated check meant to “cover” the physical theft of the property from the Palestinian owners. The six acres of stolen Palestinian land are caught up in two Israeli court cases and also under investigation by the FBI because several elements of the fraud transpired here in the U.S.
It is unfortunately common to find this type of land fraud in cases involving settlements:
Documents signed in strange places – and crooked deals – are not unusual in the lucrative and clandestine trade in Palestinian-owned land. Another recent challenge to a settler land deal in the town of Hebron involved forged documents, and a third revolved around Israeli businessmen who set up a notary with a prostitute, filmed their encounter, and then blackmailed the man into signing a sales document in Cyprus.
It is common these days to single out the Hilltop Youth for their violent extremism and repudiation of the secular State of Israel. Journalists note that the new breed rejects the “go along to get along” passivity of their settler leader elders. But in this case it is that very supposedly more moderate elder generation, embodied by Pinhas Wallerstein, which created and sanctioned this fraud. And listen to the lies spill out of his mouth–lies from the mouth of a Torah-true Jew:
The El-Watan company [which allegedly “purchased” this land] was set up by an Israeli local government in the West Bank that was headed until recently by Pinhas Wallerstein, a prominent settler leader.
“The person who sold us the land was very much alive at the time, and living in the United States,” said Wallerstein, adding that the settlers had paid millions of dollars for the small plot. He said the document transferring ownership was genuine to the best of my knowledge.
“If anyone was guilty of fraud,” Wallerstein said, “it was the seller, who may have tricked the settlers into believing he was the Palestinian owner. He did not present evidence for that claim, which if true would mean the settlers spent millions without verifying the seller’s identity.”
The company has a photocopy of the seller’s California ID and a videotape of him, Wallerstein said. But he would not make them available to the AP, saying they would eventually be introduced as evidence in court.
One of the points I find especially laughable is Wallerstein’s attempt to blame the imaginary “seller” for the fraud. His settler cronies devised this fraud and the so-called non-existent seller and now try to blame the chimera for the fraud. Besides, the alleged “millions of dollars” which changed hands are also figments of Wallerstein’s imagination.
No doubt, to the settlers who devised this game it all appeared a clever charade. They’d exploit Israel’s willingness to look the other way at such chicanery and put one over on the legitimate owners and get what they wanted to begin with, which was the land. What they didn’t bargain for was a change in the political climate in which fraud involving acts in the U.S. might actually be taken more seriously by U.S. (and hopefully Israeli) authorities.
The piece de la resistance in the Ship of Fools comedy is this statement from a Migron resident which perfectly exemplifies not only the raging racism of the settlers, but the theological-mystical mania which fuels their delusional political attitudes. Note that a historical event 1,000 years old trumps such petty niceties as property ownership and legal process:
Itay Harel, a social worker who lives on the Sumarin plot in Migron, insisted the sale was legitimate, although he refused to discuss it in detail. He also made clear that from the settlers’ perspective, the sale was beside the point.
“This land belongs to the people of Israel, who were driven off it by force,” Harel said, referring to the defeat and exile of the Jews by Rome in A.D. 70. He said no Palestinian had a rightful claim to any part of the West Bank.
“Anyone who claims the land is his is lying, and it is said that if you lie enough times, you start believing it,” he said.
This article perfectly encapsulates the potent toxic brew represented by the settler movement. And as I said above, whether we’re talking about the most extreme Hilltop Youth or the supposedly more “responsible” older settler generation, everything in their enterprise is based on fraud and violence. Once again, it is essential that U.S. authorities revoke the tax-deductible status of any Jewish organization which raises funds to support settlements. It is also imperative that the FBI fully investigate potential criminal acts undertaken in support of settler conspiracies like the one outlined in this article.