A new report by Peace Now’s Settlement Watch team
In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and applied the Israeli law over the area. Absentees’ Property Law that allows the State to take control of properties that had belonged to Palestinians up until 1948 was also applied to the annexed area.
Following the annexation the Israeli governments refrained from using the law, however one decade after 1967, the Likud government started to take advantage of it to deprive Palestinians of their assets in East Jerusalem and transfer them to settlers.
About one-third of the area designated for Israeli annexation in the West Bank according to the Trump plan (about 530,000 dunams) is Palestinian private land. The experience of the annexation in Jerusalem shows that there is real concern that the law will be applied to these vast areas and will deprive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their assets.
Peace Now looked into the East Jerusalem precedent of annexation and brings a thorough report about the way Israel used the law in East Jerusalem.
This report reveals how a secret government mechanism established under the Likud government in the 1980s, transferred dozens of Palestinian assets in Silwan and the Muslim quarter to settlers, through use of the Absentees’ Property Law, among other means.
The method worked as follows: Settler-related bodies recruited people to declare that the owners of certain properties were absentee landlords. These affidavits were passed onto the Custodian for Absentees’ Property, who deemed that they were indeed absentees’ assets without any further inspection. Thereafter, the absentees’ assets were passed onto the JNF, which passed them onto settlers. The Palestinian families living in these properties discovered that their homes were sold by the state to settlers, upon receiving lawsuits from the settlers or the JNF by the mail, demanding that they vacate the house. Thus a long, costly, exhausting legal battle ensued, for underprivileged Palestinian families versus powerful well-funded bodies like the JNF and settler organizations. Some of the families have been compelled to leave their homes, few have managed to save them, while others are still struggling.
The report cites numerous documents that indicate how the Absentees’ Property Law was abused, and how in spite of court rulings that deemed the process corrupt and unacceptable – the assets were not returned to their owners. An analysis of various governments’ policies, which is detailed in an appendix to the report, indicates that even when governments sought to reduce use of the law, the following governments always found means of changing the policy and reexpanding takeover of Palestinian assets through the Absentees’ Property Law.