The issue of the outposts is stuck like a bone in the Israeli government’s throat.
Ariel Sharon’s promise to the American administration to evacuate all the outposts that were established since he assumed office, remains only on paper. On the ground, nothing is moving. The delay in the evacuation of the outposts irritates the Americans. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who was in Washington last week, encountered impatient officials. Secretary of State Colin Powell voiced his disappointment at the pace of the outpost dismantling. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also complained. Shalom found himself in an awkward situation.
At the same time, a thousand miles away, in his disordered office on the Carmel in Haifa, sits Likud Central Committee member Aviad Visuli and runs the legal campaign against the outpost evacuation, a campaign whose sole purpose is to exhaust the system and delay the evacuation of the next outpost. He is the spoke in the wheels of the bulldozers that are supposed to descend onto the hills.
Visuli, 49, is the chairman of the Land of Israel Headquarters in Haifa and the north, a controversial man of many accomplishments. For many years he lived in Miami, did business in real estate and accumulated, so he says, quite a fortune. Since his return to Israel in the mid 1990s, he has not had to work for a living. He says of himself that the wealth he accumulated made it possible for him to retire. He established the Consumer Hotline non-profit organization. Quite a number of large companies in Israel have been sued for huge sums in class action suits, all of which were rejected by the court. He has a reputation as a serial litigant, a court freak.
“He is a big headache,” said a legal source in one of the companies he sued, “and when he decided to wear out the political establishment and military establishment, we breathed a sigh of relief. He harassed us quite a bit.”
Visuli received his 15 minutes of fame when he tried to “sting” Amram Mitzna’s election campaign two years ago. Visuli pretended to be a donor and offered a donation of USD 20,000 in three checks. He met with the CEO of the Haifa Foundation, Danny Neuman, and understood that the money would be deposited in a US bank in the account of Mitzna’s father. He secretly documented the meeting with Neuman and then sent the tape to television.
The police began an investigation against Mitzna and his staff on suspicion of breaking the Party Funding Law. The case was closed for lack of evidence, but Visuli had done what he set out to do. He wore Mitzna out in police investigations, and diverted public attention from the issues of principle that were on the agenda in the election campaign. Mitzna lost, Visuli put a check mark on his list. Two years have since gone buy, and Visuli has marked a new target. From the Red Army to an Outpost in Samaria
“The Land of Israel Headquarters in Haifa,” registered as a non-profit organization, was established immediately after the Oslo accords were signed with the goal of fighting against them being implemented. Visuli was elected to head the group in 2000, and a year later registered in the Likud. A year afterwards he was elected a member of the Central Committee in elections held in the Haifa branch.
He shoots in all directions. He is active in the Likud institutions, he established the Land of Israel Faithful organization in the party and heads it, he is a member of the Likud’s legal forum and a member of the extra-parliamentary organizations of the Right. The Likud knows him to be a tenacious litigant to the Likud court, in appeals relating to proposals and procedures in the Central Committee. These are matters that sound deathly boring, but Visuli was smart enough to realize their critical importance.
The residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza have also gotten to know him. For years he has been touring the settlements and outposts, making contacts and plotting action. The move that upgraded his involvement and status in the settlements was in October 2002, when he set up the Center for Aid to Outposts in Haifa. The center was set up in wake of the evacuation of Havat Gilad that same month. “People who came to protest the evacuation, including guys from the Haifa staff, were beaten by police and soldiers, and there was no one to handle this. There was no legal body on the Right to give assistance in such cases.
“I decided to investigate what had happened there, I drove to Havat Gilad, which had been re-established in the meantime. When examining the issue of the violence, I realized something amazing: the forces who had come to evacuate us had never shown us a warrant of demolition for the buildings. We decided to immediately get into the legal field and we petitioned the High Court of Justice against the defense minister at the time, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, over not presenting warrants for demolition. It turned out that the security establishment had demolished buildings without obtaining warrants.”
The Center for Aid to Outposts is a one-man show. Visuli coordinates the activities, receives calls, consults and handles the lawyers. He has set up an many-branched system that gives indirect aid to the outposts: he provides the outposts with furniture, electrical appliances, kitchen equipment, computers and faxes. He has made the organization into an interested party every time the sword of evacuation hangs over the outposts. In many cases people from the Center for Aid sent construction material to the outposts to help in their construction.
In addition, says Visuli, the center also helps man the outposts. “For example, the Mevo Dotan B outpost. When it was set up, we sent people to stay there in shifts of three-four days, including Saturdays.”
The center also handles security for the outposts working with Gdud Ha’aliya, a voluntary organization of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were not taken to do reserve duty in the IDF because of their age. This is a group of Red Army graduates who saw combat in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and in Israel, have set up a para-military unit structured like a battalion with platoons and companies and various ranks. “These guys are scared of nothing. Usually they do guard work on weekends in Judea and Samaria. We, the Haifa staff, mainly coordinate guard duty for the outposts, mainly those manned by two-three people.”
Work Arranger for Lawyers
The jewel in the crown of the Center for Aid’s activity is in the courtroom. Visuli has organized a large team of lawyers, over 40, from all over the country. Each outpost and its in-house lawyer. All work voluntarily, all are ideologically identified with settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Visuli is the coordinator, who arranges their work schedule. In some of the lawsuits he appears himself, although he isn’t a lawyer. “I’m now completing my second year of law school and I understand matters. When I appear in court, I represent the organization as an interested party who holds property in those outposts slated for evacuation.” That’s how it happens that in the case of one outpost, two petitions are made to the High Court of Justice, one on behalf of its residents, the other on behalf of Visuli’s organization, which owns property in that outpost.
The legal battle over Havat Gilad left the outpost in place. Perhaps not precisely, the outpost was moved 150 meters to the west, but it continues to exist and new buildings have been added. Visuli is considered a life preserver by the outposts. “A short time after the Havat Gilad story, a guy phoned me from the Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost. He told me that he had built the outpost by himself and now he was about to be evacuated. We started with petitions to the High Court of Justice. To this day he is evacuated and he rebuilds. He is evacuated, and he rebuilds.”
Every time the outpost was to be evacuated, Visuli petitioned the High Court of Justice. Not with one petition, and not two, but with a long and wearying series of petitions. His argument is basic: Israelis who live in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are entitled to legal rights, just as are Israelis who live inside the Green Line. “Demolishing buildings is an orderly procedure: a warrant for demolition, the right to a hearing, the right to appeal to court, the right to delay evacuation until the matter is settled. These are the basic rights. Until we in Haifa got into this, there was no law and order in Judea and Samaria. Outposts were evacuated and demolished illegally. Without warrants, without proper handing over, without hearings, nothing.”
One of the center’s petitions argued that the residents of the Yitzhar outpost had not been given the right to a hearing. The court admitted the settlers’ right to a hearing however the state argued that the residents had been given the right to a hearing but had not taken it. The petition was rejected and the demolition approved.
There were six buildings in the Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost in June last year. Visuli argues that Israel Lands Authority officials appeared at the outpost with three demolition warrants, but all six buildings were demolished, rather than three. “We filed a complaint with the police against all those who were involved in the demolition, and we demanded that an investigation be launched and those involved be brought to trial, and we also asked for compensation for the three buildings demolished without warrants. At the same time a new building was built and another two mobile buildings were brought to the outpost.”
The security establishment scratched its head. Visuli, who at that time was not known to them, had managed to tie up procedures. The establishment’s definition of the outposts was “illegal outposts.” Visuli threatened to sue for libel arguing that in the law there is no such definition as “illegal outpost,” but only illegal structure. The name was then changed to “unauthorized outposts.” To speed up the evacuation process it was decided that instead of demolition warrants, “circumscription warrants” would be issued for the unauthorized outposts. These are sweeping demolition orders relating to a defined section of land, a warrant that allows each building and structure to be demolished. The circumscription warrant allows the residents of that section to appeal within three days, only in writing, without an oral hearing.
In March this year, a petition was made to the High Court of Justice arguing that the time allowed for appealing is unreasonable. The High Court of Justice extended the time to eight days. Residents of the outpost as well as the Haifa organization, which has property in the outpost, submitted their reservations, each with their own arguments. The army responded only to those submitted by the Haifa organization and rejected them. It did not respond to the reservations submitted by the outpost residents. Visuli’s people made a beeline for the court for local matters in Maale Adumim and appealed against their appeals being unheard. The court said it did not have the authority to hear the matter and directed the appellants to the High Court of Justice. A petition was submitted, hearings were held, ultimately the petition was rejected.
The evacuation was delayed by months. Only in mid May was the evacuation of Mitzpe Yitzhar made possible. A thousand police and soldiers went to the hill and encountered a few hundred settlers. Dozens were wounded and many military vehicles were damaged. The evacuation began early in the morning but only in the evening was the army’s bulldozer able to go up the hill and demolish the buildings. Two other pieces of heavy equipment were left at the bottom of the hill after being disabled by the settlers.
After the evacuation, the outpost was rebuilt 150 meters away. Two families live there, and two single men. The same war of attrition is being waged in the other outposts slated for evacuation. This means delays of several months.
Visuli says that even after the court decrees that an outpost can be evacuated, the guys in the field don’t intend to give the evacuation forces an easy time of it. He says that the last evacuation worked only because of the horses. “They were able to get up onto the outpost only because they came on horseback. We were surprised by the horses. We didn’t know how to deal with them. I promise you that in the next evacuation there will be no horses, and if there are, we’ll put them out of action immediately.”
Question: How will you do that?
“People who know horses told me that if you poke the horse in his backside, he loses his composure. All you need is a simple pin.” Bargains in Downtown Miami
Visuli’s desk is full of papers. When he sits behind it, he seems to be drowning in a sea of papers. Today he devotes all of his time to legal battles against the police, the army and the state, as well as libel suits. Of the time he lived in the United States, he doesn’t expand. He is only willing to say that he made a fortune in business. A search of the Internet provides some information of his business. In 1995 he purchased an office building in downtown Miami for the bargain price of USD 550,000. Less than four years later he sold it for USD 3.2 million. He still owns a number of buildings there, which pay rent.
In Miami too, he was often in court, in lawsuits related to various business matters. He says that that in the years he lived there, he changed lawyers over 20 times. There, he says, is where he learned to do battle in court without relenting. Two years after he returned to Israel, he established the Consumer Hotline, and he sued TWA, Cellcom, Partner, Bezeq for huge sums in class action suits. He sued Partner for example, for over NIS 1.5 billion.
He became a one-man representative and managed to thoroughly annoy large companies. At one stage two companies he was suing hired a private investigator. The investigation turned up improper management in the non-profit organization, and three years ago, the organization was no longer recognized as representing consumers. In any case, all his class action suits were rejected.
His move from consumer affairs to representing the outposts was not smooth. The Settlers Council did not like Visuli’s legal activity at first, and today too, keeps its distance from him. A senior source in the Settlers Council says that he does not remember any significant success of his in any of his petitions to the High Court of Justice in the matter of the outposts. “All his victories were in the interim stages. He manages to delay the end, but not prevent it. As far as we’re concerned this man is a riddle. He is always in court and it isn’t clear to us how he makes a living.” The same source also said that some people fear that Visuli is a GSS plant. “The man is suspicious, he is fighting on too many fronts.”
Visuli grins and says he’s heard this before. “Nonsense. In the GSS, I’m considered one of the biggest troublemakers. In our organization we’ve already discovered four GSS plants who pretended to be activists, and after we exposed them they left. I know from my sources that I am in the sights of the GSS’s Jewish department.”
The people in the outposts don’t care about this. Yehuda Libman, who heads the outpost headquarters in Judea, Samaria and Gaza says that he is in regular contact with Visuli. “He is very dominant in the battle for the outposts. He was the first to spot that the legal field was the main place where we could stick spokes in the wheels of evacuation. He was the first to begin with appeals to court, and only afterwards others joined, including the Settlers Council. He is always looking for loopholes, dodges in the procedures against the outposts. I directed each outpost that was slaved for evacuation to consult with him. He is not always in charge of the lawsuits, sometimes he is behind the scenes, but he is always involved.”
Visuli admits that this is a war of attrition. All the lawsuits are with the intention of wearing out the system. “We definitely intend to exhaust the system until it realizes that all such steps are not legitimate, are not legal. I do not fear legal attrition. I have a great deal of experience in this.”
He doesn’t rest for a moment. His next big project is to stop the disengagement plan. He promises a battle never seen before, much bigger than the battle for the outposts, a battle that will naturally be waged on the legal field. “The battle will be based on legal principles, international law as well as Israeli law. We will set up a legal department that only handles the disengagement matter.”
The lawyers who work with him are preparing a suit against the prime minister and the Likud ministers who support the disengagement plan, personal lawsuits for breaking a promise to accept to accept the results of the referendum held among the registered Likud members. “We have quite a lot of ideas. For every soldier or policeman who touches a civilian in the course of the evacuations, if there are any, we will file a complaint with the police, we will press criminal charges as well as a civilian lawsuit for compensation. As for the politicians and army and police commanders involved, as of now we are looking into the possibility of pressing charges against them for war crimes at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, since the forcible transfer of civilians is defined in international law as a war crime. We will delay the implementation by any legal means possible, in any court in Israel and overseas. I believe that we can delay the implementation of this bad plan by at least five years.”
This article ran in Yediot Aharonot, July 9th, 2004