Monday, February 11, 2013

Seizure of Private Property in East Jerusalem

Let's not beat around the bush. In May 1967 there were no Jews in the Jordanian sections of Jerusalem. Today there are more than 200,000 Jews living in the parts of town that Israel took from Jordan in the Six Day War. Most of them live on what were once empty hilltops, as those of us old enough to remember can attest even without any archives. Yet even barren rocky hilltops may have been owned, at least in some cases, by individuals. And some of those Jews moved into places such as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, where the ruined buildings were owned by someone, or the decrepit buildings were inhabited. Which means that at some point, in 1967 or 1970 or 1972, Israel's government expropriated Arab property, or used Eminent Domain, whatever legal terminology you wish to use to describe the action of transferring ownership of property from some individuals, for the purpose of executing policy.

Today's file (גל-13927/17) comes from the Advisor for Arab Affairs, whom we introduced here (and also here). It doesn't describe Israel's policy of seizure of property, which was done in another agency (the Land Administration Agency), but rather the complaints about the policy which were directed towards the Prime Minister's Office, i.e. the Advisor for Arab Affairs in the PMO.

Most of the file is sealed. Not because there are any dark security secrets in it, but because by Israeli law, an individual who passes private information to an authority has the expectation of his (or her) privacy being respected. Once 70 years have passed we may assume the individuals are no longer alive and the files can be opened, but the letters in this file are from 40-45 years ago. Still, by way of giving a taste of what was in them, see pages 7 and 8.

The fellow on page 7, for example: He lived in the Old City, and had been informed his home was about to be seized. So he wrote to the prime minister and made five points:
1. My house is right next to the holy places of Jews and Muslims, so there's no price you can give me to equal what it's worth.
2. The government says the seizure is for the public good, but I don't see any benefit.
3. As an Israeli citizen I demand to stay where I am and I'll promise to respect all the laws.
4. I reserve the right to go to the courts.
5. I'm enclosing the documents which prove my ownership.

Or page 8: Yosef Dan-Gor writing to his boss, Shmuel Toledano, the Advisor for Arab Affairs himself, in the matter of two familes who own homes in the Sheikh Jarrakh area where the government intents to construct a number of ministries. The two familes are obstinate not to leave. Ovad Yakir of the Land Administration Authority, he writes, has suggested I meet them and make a seriously generous offer, before we turn to legal action. I think he's right, but I need your permission. [Intriguingly, they may not have been moved. If you go to the government compound in Sheikh Jarrah you can see that a number of older, Arab, homes are still there.]

Pages 2-5 are a letter from a voluntary welfare organization near the Mount of Olives. In January 196,8 they had been informed that they were to be moved elsewhere because the government was seizing their building, and they strenously obejcted. In addition to describing all the important things their organization did, they also pointed out that the building belonged to the Waqf and thus couldn't be expropriated, and also warned that such an action would cause public unrest and was against peace.

The letter on page 6 is also from Dan-Gor to his boss Toledano, in August 1960: there are five Arab families on French Hill who since January 1968 have been refusing all offers we've made. My impression is that they're not going to change their minds. [Here also: go to this area today and you'll see more than five Arab homes which have been there since before 1967. Are they the same families? Did Israel eventually back down?]

Page 9 is yet another letter from Dan-Gor: regarding the area where the Jordanian army had a military position south of the UN headquarters ("The Sausage"): Colonel Halamish informs us that the IDF is willing to vacate the hilltop to facilitate the construction of the Armon Hanaziv neighborhood.

And finally, most interestingly, the letter on page 10, Dan-Gor to his boss in May 1970: We're trying to seize an area in Wadi Joz so as to build a neighborhood for the [Arab] families which are being evicted from the Jewish Quarter in the Old City. The construction will be done by the [Arab] contractor Kalik Jad'On. The snag is that some of the owners of plots in that area are refusing to go along with the agreement we've already made with most of their neighbours, and now they've turned to the High Court of Justice (Bagatz).


  1. Doesn't sound like much "seizure" there. Mostly purchasing, probably for more than previous market value.

  2. Every nation in the world has the right to take public property for the benefit of its citizens, as determined by the state. So long as the process for determining what land may be acquired is not inherently unfair or corrupt, there is no wrongdoing, even if some people are harmed. Israel is doing nothing that every other nation in the world has done for years, usually on a much larger and unpaid basis (ie. after WWII in Eastern Eueope).

    And as Israel P. pointed out, landholders were compensated, probably at greatly inflated rates.

    The question I have is who held those properties prior to to the division of Jerusalem in 1948? History didn't begin at that date. Almost certainly the contested land had been appropriated by Jordan and given to certain citizens as a 'reward', or bribe, or a pay-off. Most likely, the 'landholders' did not hold title to the land at all, having gained that land as the result of an offensive war.