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Palestinians with security records won’t get back seized East Jerusalem property

Rules being drawn up by Israel's Attorney General also state 'fabric of neighbourhood' must be taken into accountin decisions on returning properties. (in other words illegal settlers infiltrating Arab neighbourhoods will be given preference to take over property owned by Palestinians - this is state run theft being sanctioned by the highest legal authority in the land. Ed)

by Revital Hovel and Nir Hasson    14 August 2013

East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Photo by Daniel Bar-On


Properties seized in East Jerusalem under the Absentees Property Law would not be returned to Palestinians with a security record or connection to hostile elements, under new procedures being drawn up by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s office that were obtained by Haaretz.

Moreover, such properties would only be returned to Palestinian owners after taking into account “the influence releasing the property would have given its location in the fabric of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods,” the proposed guidelines state. This would make it difficult for a Palestinian to get back his property if Jews had moved into the adjacent areas.

These guidelines are a follow-up to a response Weinstein gave the Supreme Court two months ago, in which he stated that the Absentees Property Law could be used to seize properties in East Jerusalem.

Under the Absentees Property Law – 1950, any person who lived in a hostile country, or in the area of “Eretz Yisrael” that was not under the State of Israel’s control, and owned property within the State of Israel, is considered an absentee owner and his property can be transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property. The primary purpose of this law was to enable use of lands belonging to Arabs who fled during the War of Independence.

After the Six-Day War, which extended the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem into what had been the West Bank, Palestinians with assets in Jerusalem suddenly found themselves considered “absentee” owners, even though they hadn’t gone anywhere. For example, the Ayad family of Abu Dis owned the Cliff Hotel, only 200 meters from their home. However, the municipal boundary of Jerusalem now runs right between their home and the hotel. As a result, in 2003 the Custodian declared it absentee property and confiscated the hotel for the state.

Over the years, the issue of whether the law could be applied in East Jerusalem has gone both ways. As attorneys-general, both Meir Shamgar in 1968 and Menachem Mazuz in 2005 ruled that the law cannot be applied in East Jerusalem. But between 1977-1992, when the Likud was in power, many properties were seized from their owners under the law. If these new guidelines are approved by the court, observers say, the government could apply the law in Jerusalem as forcefully as it was during the 1980s.

The new guidelines, being prepared for a Supreme Court hearing scheduled for next month, sets the criteria for returning East Jerusalem property to its “absentee” Palestinian owners after it had been transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property. A decision on returning the property would be made by a special committee headed by Ehud Prawer, the Prime Minister’s Office official who heads the committee that formulated the plan to regulate Bedouin lands in the Negev.

Lawyers involved with the issue say that the Absentees Property Law was never meant to punish people for security offenses. “As far as I know security issues were never a criteria under the Absentees Property Law,” said attorney Sami Ershied, who submitted one of the appeals the court is hearing. “I don’t think there’s a person on the West Bank who doesn’t have a connection to a hostile element, or that there’s a single family without a security prisoner or a wanted person.”

The criteria are vaguely worded in a way that gives the authorities wide leeway to refuse to return a property. For example, the special committee must take into account “whether the property is required for public needs… including possible needs that have not yet been crystallized.” This contrasts with a regular expropriation procedure, in which owners are compensated when their property is taken for public needs.

Another questionable criterion is the one that requires the committee to take the “fabric of the neighborhood” into account when deciding whether to seize or return a property. In many cases, properties in East Jerusalem taken by the Custodian were given to Jewish groups that settled families in them. This makes it doubtful that a seized building adjacent to a Jewish enclave will ever be returned.

Danny Zeidman, who researches Israeli policies in East Jerusalem, says this criterion will allow Jewish settlement nuclei in Arab neighborhoods to grow. “The legal system is telling residents of East Jerusalem, ‘As far as your rights are concerned, you are a tolerated minority, and your rights hang in the balance. You are always suspect and your presence, your property rights, and your ability to express yourself are not assumed, but are a handout we give you.’”

The Justice Ministry said in response: “The attorney general was asked to consider the issue and his decision will be brought before the court on the date set.”