Land owned by a Palestinian family in East Jerusalem has been confiscated by the Israeli government and reallocated to a Zionist settlement non-government organization, an investigation by local news outlet Haaretz discovered.
The NGO, Amana, is in the process of building its headquarters on land that belongs to the Abu Ta'ah family. "Documents submitted for an administrative petition against the land transfer reveals that the state used strenuous bureaucratic acrobatics to deliver land that didn't belong to it," Haaretz reported.
Maps were redrawn, crucial documents were concealed and the Abu Ta'ah family was never even informed their land was going to be seized. When the family finally realized their property was being expropriated — after Amana started cordoning off portions of their land with fences — — they petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to no avail. They have appealed and the case has now advanced to the Supreme Court.
One of Amana's key leaders, Ze'ev Hever, has previously been convicted of terrorism and helped spearhead the NGO's illegal acquisition of Palestinian land for settlements.
"This presence is a guiding force in protecting the conditions necessary for a Jewish State," Amana says of its organization on its website. "Amana is the only movement of its kind in Jerusalem."
But a 2014 police investigation discovered that Amana subsidiary Al-Watan forged documents in order to illegally build a settlement on privately owned Palestinian land. Another investigation revealed that 14 of 15 times Al-Watan purported to have purchased land from a Palestinian were fraudulent, involving bribed straw men and the use of a dead Palestinian's identity.
"We knew all my life that we had this land," Mohammed Abu Ta'ah told Haaretz. "When my mother was supposed to receive her National Insurance Institute stipend, they told her she would not receive it because we have land."
"They are not the owners and I am," he added. "There's no justice."
The family is being represented by Steven Berman, a lawyer who ironically spent many years defending Jerusalem against property disputes with Palestinians. "When the Abu Ta'ah family came to me and told me they had received a letter ordering them to evacuate this plot, it seemed illogical to me," Berman said in an interview with Haaretz.
While the law technically allows for expropriation under some circumstances, many activists, governments and organizations argue the settlements are both unlawful and a violation of Palestinians' human rights.
"Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate the laws of occupation," Human Rights Watch wrote in January. "The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens into the territory it occupies and from transferring or displacing the population of an occupied territory within or outside the territory."
Settlements often include private industry, HRC explains, which has been able to benefit from cheap labor by hiring Palestinians with few economic alternatives.
The issue has captivated international headlines in the past. In 2014, Scarlett Johansson was pressured to end her eight-year association with charity Oxfam as ambassador after the actress was featured in a SodaStream campaign — the company is known for running one of its factories from a West Bank settlement. Oxfam, who has taken a public stand against settlements, felt Johansson's endorsement of the business was at odds with the goals of the charity.
The government's reported acquisition of Palestinian land using fraudulent documentation and practices adds yet another layer of complication to an already legally ambiguous and deeply contentious affair.
Correction: May 11, 2016