Probe Shows Most Land Sales in the West Bank Have Been ‘irregular’

The State Comptroller’s office, which has been investigating the sale of land on the West Bank by Arabs to Jews, has found that most of the transactions have been “irregular.”

According to the Comptroller and a police unit that was formed at the national police headquarters to deal with this issue, the large-scale irregularities might involve as much as some 12,000 acres of 17,000 acres bought by the state, as well as numerous private transactions between Arabs and Jews.

The situation was highlighted earlier this month when a group of Kiryat Arba settlers and six Likud members moved into an apartment in the Arab marketplace in central Hebron, claiming that it had been purchased from a local Arab. The squatters were eventually evicted by the army and the apartment was sealed off from other intruders. An investigation of this incident showed that the apartment had indeed been purchased. The investigation also found that 40 other apartments had been sold by Arabs, through middlemen to Jews.

A COMPLICATED SITUATION

What makes the situation complicated is that while the sale of land by an Arab to a Jew may be formally legal in the transferring of the deed to a piece of land or apartment, it is irregular because the purchase is prohibited under current law unless it is approved by the Defense Ministry. Apparently, none of the sales in Hebron were approved by the ministry nor were the transactions registered with it.

A similar case surfaced two years ago when a new settlement project in Ramat Kidron near Jerusalem was halted because the developers were unable to register the land they bought because of 109 separate objections filed by local Arab villagers who denied selling the land to Israeli developers.

The case of Ramat Kidron revealed the existence of a complicated and circuitous system whereby Jews bought land from Arab middlemen who had purchased the land from the original owners. Due to a complex land registration system in the administered territories, a legacy from the Jordanian government and the lack of sufficient Israeli government control, the system enables middlemen to forge documents for the purpose of selling land to Jews. The original Arab owners then complain that the land had been sold to Jews without their approval.

Another element in the situation of irregular land sales to Jewish individuals, contractors and companies is that Arab owners are forbidden by Jordan and intimidated by the Palestine Liberation Organization from transacting land deals with Jews directly. A middleman is therefore required to make the transaction.

Earlier this month, three Israelis were jailed as police investigated cases of possible fraud involving similar land sales in the West Bank. Tel Aviv Judge Binyamin Kohelet said that the cases “could turn out extremely serious, with implications beyond the criminal aspects.” The investigation is continuing.

There will be no Bulletin dated September 2, Labor Day, a postal holiday.

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