Photo Credit: Yehonatan Valtser/TPS

Nidal Atari is a resident of the Palestinian Authority (PA), serving as a senior official in the Real Estate Department of the Israeli Civil Administration, a division of the Ministry of Defense. Atari was abducted 10 days ago by PA security personnel from his home in a village near Shechem (Nablus), in Area C, which is under Israeli security responsibility.

By virtue of his position, Atari may approve or reject huge real estate transactions, sometimes worth tens of millions of dollars.

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Atari’s arrest is not his first. In recent years, he has been abducted twice by Palestinian Authority officials and still continues to work in the Civil Administration. During one arrest, Atari needed medical treatment, and another time he was detained for more than half a year.

Nevertheless, he continued in his sensitive role in the Israeli Civil Administration.

The issue of his arrest was discussed at length in the State Comptroller’s report from the summer of 2020, in which an entire chapter was written in his case following his previous arrest.

An extensive article on the phenomenon was published on Channel 13 by Zvi Yehezkeli a few months ago with testimonies of people who were severely tortured because of Atari’s actions.

TPS is presenting his version, as given by his associates. Atari is still in PA custody.

In the meeting TPS had with them, a new version of recent events was presented and is different from what has been published so far.

Atari was arrested at his home by the PA’s preventive security personnel when he was in possession of 30 files containing sensitive material dealing with matters of land ownership.

From the moment he left his office, Atari was under surveillance. Three of his co-workers, Arabs who appear to be working with PA intelligence, followed his every move.

“The three, R.S., O. and S., are Palestinian Authority informants,” Atari’s associates said.

Atari knew he was under surveillance even after his second arrest before his third and so he submitted five letters of resignation to the head of the Civil Administration.

In response, his managers told him that they wanted him to continue in his position due to his great value and the knowledge he had accumulated and even promised to protect him.

After the sensitive material was taken from him when he was arrested at the door of his house, Atari was interrogated by Khaled Abu Yaman, a very senior PA intelligence official who currently works in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ office and who abducted an Israeli citizen from Jerusalem to Ramallah at the end of 2018. Abu Yaman then claimed that the abductee sold land to Jews.

Abu Yaman is very close to the head of PA intelligence Majd Faraj, who is mentioned as one of the people who are expected to replace Abbas.

The pressure exerted by PA intelligence on Atari stems from his refusal to approve land-ownership transactions in their favor and while demanding that he recognize and sign forged documents proving that they own the land.

Atari annoyed the PA intelligence officials recently when he refused to approve a deal to transfer ownership of 3,313 dunams of Petzael land near Ma’ale Ephraim in the Jordan Valley. The value of each dunam is over $10,000 and the value of the entire transaction is $35 million.

Atari, according to his associates, refused to erase a note in the file registered several months ago, according to which the lands belong to the Bnei Jaber family from the village of Aqraba.

PA intelligence officials have been pressuring Atari for a long time to erase the comment and sign forged documents.

A Jordanian organization that has been involved in land trade in Judea and Samaria in recent years, and sometimes in coordination with PA officials, also pressured Atari to allow the transfer of land near Petzael.

PA intelligence officials told Atari that because he refused to accept the documents, members of the Israeli Civil Administration’s real estate unit would not be able to advance the deal and his arrest was intended to persuade him to act accordingly.

Atari’s associates say that PA intelligence is involved in huge real estate deals and in recent years its senior officials have taken over land in the Gush Etzion area, near the Beit Fajjar refugee camp, in the town of Artas near Bethlehem, in the Beit Jallah area and in the Daheisha refugee camp area.

Many lands were purchased with the funds of the Palestinian Investment Fund and registered in the names of the associates of senior PA intelligence officials. A senior Ramallah official confirmed the allegations and presented TPS with cases confirming the allegations. Many lands near Jericho were also purchased by senior PA intelligence officials, even though these were Waqf lands.

Senior PA intelligence officials are also involved in land deals in the municipal area of ​​Jerusalem and only recently did one of the senior members of the security mechanisms get involved in a land dispute in the village of Sharafat in which a Palestinian Authority entrepreneur has recently embarked on a huge venture. Lawyers from eastern Jerusalem who were arrested three months ago by the Jerusalem police on suspicion of forgery and money laundering are also involved in this matter.

Nine years ago, Osama Mansour, a senior official in charge of land at the Palestinian Attorney General’s Office, suddenly died. Although rumor has it that Mansour committed suicide, insiders say he was thrown out of his office window after threatening PA intelligence chiefs to reveal their involvement in land corruption cases.

Mansour was forced by senior intelligence officials to purchase land using forged documents from the funds of the Palestinian Investment Fund. After the lands were purchased, Mansour was forced to act and this time sell them to PA Arabs or Jews, provided that the deal would yield handsome profits.

Mansour was also responsible for registering the transactions and regulating the status of the land and the distribution of profits, but after getting in trouble and threatening to inform on intelligence officials, Abbas’ family members, investment fund officials, and others, including PA officials, Mansour was thrown to his death from his office window. “The unknowns are known to those who need to know, “a senior PA official told TPS.

Recently, a Palestinian Authority journalist began investigating the various cases, including the Mansour affair, the land sales corruption in which PA intelligence chiefs were involved, and progressed in his work.

That journalist was Nizar Banat.

Nizar Khalil Mohamad Banat was a well-known political activist in the PA and one of PA’s Mahmoud Abbas’ fiercest opponents. He died in June in Hebron while in PA custody and after they arrested him and tortured him.

The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told TPS that “upon receiving the claim regarding the arrest in the Palestinian Authority of an employee of the Civil Administration who is employed as an auditor of real estate transactions, the Civil Administration began investigating the case. The issue is still being examined by the professionals in the Civil Administration vis-à-vis the relevant bodies in the Palestinian Authority.”

“We emphasize that the employee is entrusted with real estate transactions between Palestinian residents, and has no involvement in transactions involving Israelis. Therefore, despite the arrest of the local worker by the Palestinian Authority, there is no fear of information leaking regarding the sale of land to Israelis,” COGAT underscored.

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Baruch reports on Arab affairs for TPS.