ISRAHELL: Israel bars Palestinian expert on settlements from travel abroad

Interior Minister Eli Yishai has banned Palestinian geographer Khalil Tufakji, a resident of Jerusalem, from traveling abroad for six months, citing unspecified security concerns.

The ban was issued on the recommendation of the Shin Bet security service and is based on 1948 Emergency regulations.

“Having been convinced that there is real concern that the exit of Mr. Khalil Tufakji from Israel may harm the security of the state, I order that he be banned from exiting the country until 2 August, 2010,”
the order reads.

Tufakji, 60, was summoned last week to a meeting at Jerusalem police headquarters in the Russian Compound. There, a man in civilian clothes calling himself Shadi, gave him the order.

The Shin Bet said that the man was a policeman.

Tufakji has for years been researching Israel’s settlement policy and the ways by which Palestinian land is taken over, as well as planning policy which discriminates against Palestinians.

He heads the cartography department of the Arab Studies Society, established in 1980 to document the social, political and cultural history of the Palestinians.

Since 1992 Tufakji has been part of Palestinian negotiating team on property borders, land and settlements. In addition to his research, he lectures in Israel and abroad and is often interviewed by journalists.

Tufakji says that he has no scheduled lectures abroad in the near future.

Palestinian activists say that the order against him is part of a policy of oppression by the Israeli authorities, targeting popular and public opposition to the occupation.

The Shin Bet said in response that “as far as we know the minister issued the order after reviewing relevant information and a recommendation by the Shin Bet that there is a significant security threat by the exit of the aforementioned person abroad.”

Ref: Haaretz

Shady land deal unfolds from West Bank to California strip mall

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 man 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.

The land now houses a thriving Jewish settlement, another of the facts on the ground that strengthen Israel’s grip on the West Bank and outrage the Palestinians. Such property deals are driven by the settlers’ belief the land is their God-given right; the cooperation of Israel’s governments, even those that have talked peace; and cash from wealthy donors, many of them American Jews.
In this case, 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.

There’s no evidence Sumarin 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.

The land now houses part of Migron, one of the some 100 unauthorized outposts established by settlers in the West Bank over the past decade. The six acres (2.5 hectares) of rocky soil are caught up in two court cases in Israel and investigations by Israeli police and, it appears, the FBI.

Sumarin’s grandson, Abdel Munam Sumarin, can see the trailers and utility poles of Migron from his living room in Burqa. As one of his grandfather’s heirs, he has appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to get the land back; other Palestinians who say they own plots occupied by the settlement have joined the suit.

“The connection between us and our land is like religion. It’s our family. It’s not about money – you can’t state its worth in money. Money goes, but the land remains,” said Sumarin, 51, a preacher at a mosque in a neighboring village.

Beginning next to a hilltop cell phone antenna in 2001, Migron is home to 45 young families. It was never officially approved by Israel’s government, but the government nonetheless provided security, an access road, and infrastructure for electricity and water.

Anyone who examines the Israeli military’s West Bank land records can find the owner of Parcel 26, Lot 23: Abdel Latif Sumarin of Burqa, his name still listed on documents long after he died and bequeathed the land to his children.

The settlers say they purchased the land in 2004, after they had already effectively seized it. They cite a document bearing Sumarin’s name and the stamp and signature of notary public D.K. Shah, who runs the Postal Annex, an office-services business in a strip mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Tustin, about 7,600 miles from the West Bank.

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.

Palestinian society sees selling land to Israelis as treason, and the bullet-riddled corpses of Palestinian land dealers turn up every so often around the West Bank. To protect sellers, the deals are secret and almost never registered.

That allows several kinds of scams. Sometimes, Palestinians cheat the settlers by taking heir money and not turning over the land, or selling land they don’t own. Other times, settlers falsely claim they’ve purchased Palestinians’ land.

On Feb. 12, 2004, according to a document the Migron settlers provided to an Israeli court, a person identifying himself as Abdel-Latif Hassaan Sumrain (Elmatin), a previous resident of the Village of Borka Ramallah now residing in Orange County, California, appeared before Shah, the California notary.

Sumrain gave the number of a California ID card and confirmed he received an unspecified payment for turning his land over to a company called Elwatan Ltd. In Arabic, el-watan means homeland, a name that appears to have been a cynical joke by the Israeli settlers who founded the company to buy Palestinian land.

Court documents list the company’s address as 17 Six-Day War St. in Jerusalem, but a woman who answered the main door to the two-story residential building said she had never heard of it. She refused to give her name.

The notary’s document also doesn’t stand up. It contains several misspellings, including Sumarin’s name and that of his El-Mu’atan clan – mistakes that could easily have been made by someone working off a document in Arabic, which is largely written without vowels.

A check of California records shows the ID number the seller gave belongs to an Ernie Mario Mendoza. A man who answered the phone at a Poway, Calif., number for Mendoza did not appear to have heard of the case and refused to answer questions.

A Palestinian Authority document shows that Sumarin died in 1961, when his grandson says he was around 80. The grandson and a grandnephew said the elder Sumarin was buried near a fragile olive tree in the village cemetery. From there, Migron is visible on a hilltop to the east.

The El-Watan company 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.

Shah told the AP in Tustin that he never signed the document and that the stamp on it was not authentic. Copies of Shah’s real signature provided by Orange County officials do not match the signature on the Sumarin document.

“It’s not my writing,” Shah said. “Somebody did fraud, I guess.”

He said he had been questioned by FBI agents and was not allowed to reveal more details. The FBI’s Los Angeles office said only that it does not confirm or deny investigations.

Hillel Cohen, a Hebrew University expert on Palestinian collaboration with Israel, said the forgers likely would not have hesitated to use a dead man’s name since Palestinians registered as owners of West Bank land are often dead or live abroad.

He said it was reasonable to expect that no one would even notice the supposed sale, let alone check its authenticity. Although Israeli watchdog groups like Peace Now and Yesh Din have tracked sales of Palestinian land in recent years, these forgers might still have been playing by the old rules, said Cohen.

“If no one cares, you don’t get caught,” he said.

Dror Etkes, an Israeli peace activist behind the legal action against Migron, said the crude forgery demonstrated the settlers’ confidence. If they were more afraid, they would do it more professionally, he said.

The Israeli government has not recognized the Sumarin sale or any other land purchases at Migron, and is pushing a compromise deal to move Migron elsewhere in the West Bank. But the Migron settlers say they won’t move and are fighting to prove their ownership in a Jerusalem court. The process could take years.

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.

Ref: Haaretz

Read more about The Migron disgrace or about the ongoing offical Israeli policy of stealing land here “Israel ‘funded illegal outposts’

Israel’s strategy for permanent occupation and apartheid

One may well think that the struggle inside the Jewish community of Israel is between those of the political right, who want to maintain the settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank so as to “redeem” the Greater Land of Israel as a Jewish country, and those of the left who seek a two-state solution with the Palestinians and are thus willing to relinquish enough of the “territories”, if not all, in order that a viable Palestinian state may emerge.

This is not really the case. Polls and the make-up of the Israeli government suggest that perhaps a quarter of Israeli Jews fall into the first group, the die-hards, while not more than 10 per cent support a full withdrawal from the occupied territories. (Virtually no Israeli Jews use the term “occupation,” which Israel denies it has.) The vast majority of Israeli Jews, stretching from the liberal Meretz party through Labour, Kadima and into the “liberal” wing of the Likud, excepting only the religious parties and the extreme right-wing led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the current minister of strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, share a broad consensus: for both security reasons and because of Israel’s “facts on the ground”, the Arabs (as we [Israelis] call the Palestinians) will have to settle for a truncated mini-state on no more than 15-20 per cent of the country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

What’s more, it’s agreed that the decision whether to relinquish any territory and how much is an exclusively Israeli decision. We may proffer to the Palestinians some kind of a “generous offer” if they behave themselves and it suits our purpose, but any initiative in the direction of “peace” must be unilateral. The Palestinians may indicate a preference, but the decision is ours and ours alone. Our power, our all-encompassing concern for security and the plain fact that the Arabs just don’t count (except as a nuisance factor) limit any peace process to, at best, a willingness to grant them a tiny Bantustan on four or five cantons, all encircled by Israeli settlements and the military. Israeli control of the entire Land of Israel, whether for religious, national or security reasons, is a given, never to be compromised.

This is, of course, completely unacceptable to the Palestinians. That by itself doesn’t matter, but it does raise a fundamental problem. In any genuine negotiations leading to just, sustainable and mutually agreed-upon agreement, Israel would have to give up much more than it is willing to do. Negotiations must take place once in a while, if only to project an image of Israel as a country seeking peace — Annapolis being merely the latest charade — but they can never lead to any real breakthrough because two-thirds of the Jewish public support a permanent Israeli presence in the occupied territories, civilian and military, that forecloses a viable Palestinian state. How, then, does Israel retain its major settlements, a “greater” Jerusalem and control over territory and borders without appearing intransigent? How can it maintain its image as the only seeker of peace and the victim of Arab terrorism, effectively concealing its own violence and, indeed, the very fact of occupation in order to shift the blame to the Palestinians?

The answer for the past 40 years of occupation is the status quo, delay, while quietly expanding the settlements and strengthening its grip on Judea and Samaria (again, we do not use the terms “occupation” or “occupied territories” in Israel, not to mention “Palestinian”). Just look at the run-up to Annapolis and the negotiations Israel is promising. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said recently that “Annapolis is a landmark on the path to negotiations and of the genuine effort to achieve the realization of the vision of two nations: the State of Israel — the nation of the Jewish people; and the Palestinian state — the nation of the Palestinian people”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Now look at the pre-conditions Israel has imposed just in the two weeks before Annapolis:

· Redefining Phase 1 of the Road Map. The first phase of the Road Map, the very basis of negotiations, calls for Israel to freeze its settlement construction. That is something Israel will obviously not do. So, on the basis of a letter former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received from President Bush in 2004 — a fundamental change in American policy that nevertheless does not commit the other members of the Road Map “Quartet”, Europe, Russia and the UN — Israel announced that it defines the areas considered “occupied” by the Quartet as only those areas falling outside its major settlement blocs and “greater” Jerusalem. Thus, unilaterally, Israel (and the US apparently) reduced the territory to be negotiated with the Palestinians from 22 per cent to a mere 15 per cent, and that truncated into fragmented cantons.

· Requiring recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state.” The Palestinians are required to formally recognize the state of Israel. They did so already in 1988 when they accepted the two-state solution, at the outset of the Oslo process and repeatedly over the past two decades. Now comes a fresh demand: that before any negotiations they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Not only does that introduce an entirely new element that Israel knows the Palestinians will not accept, but it prejudices the equal status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, a full 20 per cent of the Israeli population. This leads the way to transfer, to ethnic cleansing. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, recently told a press conference that the future of Israel’s Arab citizens is in a future Palestinian state, not in Israel itself.

· Creating insurmountable political obstacles. Two weeks before Annapolis was to convene, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a law that a majority of two-thirds would be required to approve any change in the status of Jerusalem, an impossible threshold.

· Delayed implementation. OK, the Israeli government says, we’ll negotiate. But the implementation of any agreement will wait on the complete cessation of any resistance on the part of the Palestinians. Given the fact that Israel views any resistance, armed or non-violent, as a form of terrorism, this erects yet another insurmountable obstacle before any peace process.

· Declaring a “transitional” Palestinian state. If all else fails — actually negotiating with the Palestinians or relinquishing the occupation not being an option — the US, at Israel’s behest, can manage to skip Phase 1 of the Road Map and go directly to Phase 2, which calls for a “transitional” Palestinian state before, in Phase 3, its actual borders, territory and sovereignty are agreed upon. This is the Palestinians’ nightmare: being locked indefinitely in the limbo of a “transitional” state. For Israel it is ideal, since it offers the possibility of imposing borders and expanding into the Palestinian areas unilaterally yet, since its fait accompli is only “transitional,” seeming to conform to the Road Map’s requirement to decide the final issues through negotiations.

The end result, towards which Israel has been progressing deliberately and systematically since 1967, can only be called apartheid, which means “separation” in Afrikaner, precisely the term Israel uses to describe its policy (hafrada in Hebrew). And it is apartheid in the strict sense of the term: one population separating itself from the rest, then dominating them permanently and institutionally through a political regime like an expanded Israel locking the Palestinians into dependent and impoverished cantons.

The overriding question for the Israeli government, then, is not how to reach peace. If peace and security were truly the issue, Israel could have had that 20 years ago if it would have conceded the 22 per cent of the country required for a viable Palestinian state. Today, when Israel’s control is infinitely stronger, why, ask the Israeli Jewish public and the government it elects, should we concede anything significant? We enjoy peace with Egypt and Jordan, and Syria is dying to negotiate. We have relations with most Arab and Muslim states. We enjoy the absolute and uncritical support of the world’s only superpower, supported by a compliant Europe. Terrorism is under control, the conflict has been made manageable, Israel’s economy is booming. What, ask Israelis, is wrong with this picture?

No, the issue for Israel is rather how to transform its Occupation from what the world considers a temporary situation to a permanent political fact accepted by the international community, de facto if need be or, if apartheid can be finessed in the form of a two-state solution, then formally. And here’s the dilemma, and the source of debate within the Israeli government: does Israel continue with the strategy that has served it so well these past 40 years, delaying or prolonging negotiations so as to maintain the status quo, all the while strengthening its hold over the Palestinian territories or, at this unique but fleeting moment in history when George Bush is still in office, does it try to nail it all down, forcing upon the Palestinians a transitional state within the framework of the Road Map?

Olmert, following Sharon, is pushing for the former. Netanyahu, Lieberman, the right-wing (including many in Olmert’s own party) and, significantly, Labour Chairman and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, always a military hawk, are resisting out of fear that even a process of pretend negotiations might get out of hand, creating expectations on Israel. Better, they say, to stay with the tried-and-true policy of status quo which can, if cleverly managed, extend indefinitely. Besides, Bush is a lame duck, and no pressure will be put on Israel until June 2009, at least six months after the next American president is inaugurated, Democrat or Republican. We’re just fine until then; why rock the boat? The only tricky time for Israel is the two years in the midst of a presidential term. We can weather that. Annapolis? We’ll try cautiously for apartheid, hoping that Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], prodded by Quartet envoy Tony Blair, will play the role of collaborator. If that doesn’t work, well, status quo is always a reliable default.

In the meantime, as long as the Israeli public enjoys peace-and-quiet and a good economy, and as long as it remains convinced that security requires Israel to retain control of the territories, no pressure will come from the home front for any meaningful change of policy. Given this political landscape in Israel, in the territories and abroad, it’s hard for Israeli leaders to conceal their ebullient feeling that, whether formally or not, “we’ve won”.

by Jeff Halper
November 30, 2007
Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).