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      Avri Ran Acquitted and Freed After Months in Jail

      ‘Father of the Hilltops’ Avri Ran, together with three of the workers at his organic farm in the Shomron, was found innocent Monday of all allegations that they attacked local Arabs.
      By Ezra HaLevi
      First Publish: 1/16/2006, 11:30 PM / Last Update: 1/16/2006, 7:28 PM


      Ran was arrested last March at his Gvaot Olam farm, near Itamar in Samaria, after Arabs from a neighboring village, accompanied by left-wing activists, brought a tractor onto his farmland and began plowing over his crops. Police were waiting nearby, and when volunteers from the farm damaged the tractor, the police appeared and arrested Ran together with his workers.

      Judge Nava Bechor delivered her verdict at the Kfar Saba Magistrate’s Court Monday afternoon, finding the four not guilty. Judge Bechor called the Palestinian testimony "evasive" and said they "gave answers that defied all logic." She also said that although there were serious land disputes between Ran and his Arab neighbors, it was obvious that the land being trespassed belonged to him and that the Arabs knew it.

      A fifth man was found guilty, due to a plea bargain he made in order to be released from prison during the lengthy trial process. The man helped with guard duty and management of the large farm while Ran and his workers were in jail.

      Ran's brother Nir told Channel 2 TV that justice had finally been served, albeit way too late, and at the expense of a dedicated Israeli patriot's freedom.

      Last April, High Court Justice Edna Arbel had ordered Ran placed under house arrest far away from his farm until the end of proceedings against him. Supporters of Ran viewed the decision as an organized sting operation to keep him out of Judea, Samaria and Gaza prior to the Disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria last summer. At the time, Ran said: "In the Supreme Court, I understood that the legal system is willing to take views and a political situation and to manipulate them to advance processes that suit its own interests. I understand that what I am saying is terrible. There is a civil war going on here. But it isn't a war between brothers, and it isn't being fought by both sides."

      Ran left his brother’s house, where he was being confined, and went into hiding at the various communities which he helped found until the week before his first court date. Knowing that he would be imprisoned, he went on vacation with his family near Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), where he was swiftly arrested and jailed until “the end of proceedings.”

      Ran was held in jail for several months under harsh conditions. The practice of keeping prisoners in jail until the end of proceedings has been used increasingly in the past year against ideological prisoners who oppose government withdrawals.

      According to Ran's lawyer, the defense proved that the leftist Ta’ayush group orchestrated the events that led to Ran's arrest. Rabbis for Human Rights, funded by the American Reform Movement and the European Union, also played a role in promoting the case against Ran. During the trial, the defense aired an interview with one of the Arabs from the village who testified that the whole episode was initiated by members of the Ta’ayush.

      Many "hilltop communities" in Judea and Samaria, including the recently-targeted community of Sde Boaz, south of Jerusalem, and three others in Samaria, north of Jerusalem, were started by former volunteers at Ran’s farm. Defense Minister Sha’ul Mofaz has signed order to destroy the communities.

      Click here to read an Israel National News feature story about Avri Ran.