Op-Ed: Truth is Stranger than Fiction - a MUST READ
Yitschak HerskovitzMr. Herskovitz's well deserved fame is due to his perseverance in fighting the injustice done to him by Arab squatters and an indifferent bureaucracy.
Much has been written on the legal aspects of my lawsuit against the Arab Salach clan that infiltrated and squatted on my land in Givat HaMatos in southern Jerusalem and didn't leave until forced to, about 20 years later.
But much less has been written about the most miraculous manner in which I won the case!
I imagine that it is impossible to really comprehend the emotional turmoil that this court case of illegal trespass has caused me. However, in the end, the events showed that Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet's hand was guiding me! It is otherwise impossible to explain the miracles that occurred to help me prove that the property was mine and that the Salachs were lying brazenly.
Underlying the entire mystery is the totally incomprehensible fact that this simple trespass case took nearly 20 long years to be solved….
A major hurdle that I faced is the fact that when someone has possession – a chazakah – this causes him to believe that he actually owns the object in his posession. This is of course not necessarily correct. But the law of chazakah is in fact vague and easily misunderstood; there are many interpretations of this law of possession as ownership.
Therefore, when the Israeli Police did not take firm action to take the Salach trespassers off my property, despite my repeated demands, the Salachs became accustomed to the idea that they were there to stay, that they could not be taken out, and that the property was theirs. Even when I showed the police my proof of ownership – proof of purchase from M.G., a Jew from California - the police did nothing to get the Salachs out, strengthening their distorted understanding that the property was theirs.
In short, the police did not know the law of possession and ownership, and therefore they could not enforce it.
My work was thus cut out for me: To prove my ownership, against their possession.
I knew the history of the property and the chain of title to it. However, I was missing one link to prove that I was and am the latest and current owner, and they were not.
The judge had formed a strong opinion from the very beginning, after hearing the testimony of the "Queen Mother" Salach. She testified that she had given the original Armenian owner a huge amount of money as a loan, with the property as security. In the end, the Armenian died without paying back the loan, and so, she claimed, the property belonged to her family because of the default on the loan.
The judge also heard my testimony, as the legal owner of the property, according to the records. As mentioned, I had purchased the property from M.G., who had bought it from the estate of the Armenian.
The judge then took both lawyers into his chambers and told them of the decision he intended to give: The money the Salach clan gave the Armenian amounts to key money, and therefore he would rule that they cannot be evicted. However, he said, because the property was registered in my name, I am the legal owner – and therefore the case should be negotiated for a settlement. He said that this is what we must do, and that he was taking the case off his calendar.
The situation was thus as follows:
· The Salach clan had nothing to lose by staying put and enjoying the property while the case is no longer being adjudicated.
· I, on the other hand, who initiated the law suit and who had to suffer the loss of my legally-bought property, knew in my heart that they were lying about this loan; I knew that the document they brought as proof was a forgery. But how could I prove that the Armenian's "signature" was forged?
I was determined to fight this case and win, and find a way to show that the Armenian had not agreed to give his property – which he later sold to M.G. – in lieu of paying off his loan.
I pressured to have my claim returned to the court calendar, while the Salachs tried all the tricks in the book to ensure the opposite. In the end, more than a year after it was removed from the calendar, it was restored. I would not have to negotiate with those who stole my property!
Salvation Begins From the Air
The start of my salvation came when the City Manager for Arab Affairs suggested I find an expert in aerial photography. I found one who had over a half-million aerial photos; his business was to take such photos of every square inch of Jerusalem many times per year – ever since 1966.
The Salachs claimed that they lived in my property since 1966. I asked the photographer for his pictures of the site, and we found that the house – which had been bombed during the Six Day War in 1967 – was uninhabitable. Its roof was caved in, and part of a wall was missing. However, a photo from 1984 showed something very critical: For the first time, there was a tent not far from the ruined house! Apparently the Salachs put it there so they could live in it – in 1984, not 1966, as they had claimed! They also put up a corral to keep their sheep just outside of the house near the fence.
In short, the house was in ruins all those years, so it could not have been inhabited.
I was fortunate that the judge was a veteran of the Israel Air Force, working on intelligence and knew how to read aerial photographs.
Testimony of David Dovid
David Dovid, a senior Israel Lands Authority employee, testified at the trial. He knew the story of the Salach squatters through his work. He testified that the Salach clan did not come to the Givat HaMatos area until around 1982. He told the court that at that time, the Salach clan had their eye on buying the property, and had asked him who the owner was.
Is this not a clear proof that they knew the property was not theirs?
Attorney Eitan Geva
Now comes the most miraculous part of the story.
Someone suggested I meet Atty. Eitan Geva, who had worked as a lawyer from before 1948, including in purchasing lands from Arabs for the JNF (Jewish National Fund). He was expert in this entire area of lands.
He told me to bring my entire file, and when he looked at it, he saw that the name of the man who had power of attorney to transfer ownership from the estate of the Armenian to M.G. was very familiar to him. He remembered that it was the same person who had once given him (Geva) theoriginal ownership deed of the property in question! (Why did he give it to him? Because the estate of the Armenian, who had been a Christian, wanted Geva to find a buyer for the property.)
In other words, we had an amazing discovery! Geva had a document with the original, notarized signature of the Armenian – and the signature could be compared to the signature on the Salachs' "loan" document.
It must be emphasized that my search for original documents had hit a dead end. This, because all the records in the Hall of Records had been destroyed by the Irgun in their fight against the British for a Jewish State. The building that held the records of property ownerships had been fire-bombed and all the records were destroyed. By now finding this signature of the Armenian, I could show that the loan document of the Salachs was totally bogus.
It turned out, in fact, that the signatures were very different. The original was clear and legible, while the bogus one was barely readable.
[Later, a handwriting expert testified at the trial that the "loan" signature was nothing more than a forgery – and this helped restore my property to me.]
The way I see things, presentation of evidence that is a forgery is a criminal offense. I now ask why the State of Israel does not and did not prosecute the Salach clan for doing so?
The finding of the original deed was a miracle that proved to me that the hand of Eliyahu HaNavi helped me in my fight for justice in Jerusalem. Thank you Hashem!