Palestinian attorney condemns ruling on East Jerusalem property

Decision applying Absentee Property Law to those who fled to West Bank will open door to massive ‘Israeli seizures,’ appellant claims

Silwan viewed from the Jerusalem Trail (Photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Silwan viewed from the Jerusalem Trail (Photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

A lawyer representing Palestinians said Thursday a ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court could enable confiscation of East Jerusalem property owned by Palestinian residents of the West Bank Thursday.

The April 15 decision brings such assets within the scope of the 1950 “Absentee Property Law,” which places in state custody all property inside Israel owned by Arabs who were living outside the state at the time of its founding in 1948.

The court declared that the law also applies to East Jerusalem — captured by Israel in 1967 and later effectively annexed — in cases in which Palestinian property-owners fled to the West Bank.

Many petitions have been lodged with the courts by Palestinians in the past seeking to reclaim confiscated property.

Some have been successful, but the Supreme Court judgement closes the door to future appeals, according to lawyer Mohannad Gebara.

Gebara said the absentee property law is intended “to seize the property of Palestinian refugees in order to make them (Israeli) state property… and to legalize the seizure of Palestinian assets.”

“The law determines that property in East Jerusalem belonging to a Palestinian living in Hebron or Ramallah has to be seized by Israel if he was at the time of the Israeli occupation in Ramallah or Hebron or any other city or area of the West Bank,” he told a press conference in East Jerusalem.

Israel has confiscated dozens of properties, particularly in Jerusalem’s Old City and the Silwan neighborhood, in order to pass them to settler organizations, Gebara added.

“It has also seized several plots of land and thousands of items, contrary to international law,” said the lawyer.

In a 2005 appeal to the Supreme Court, Gebara argued that Palestinians living in Ramallah and Hebron were under Israeli military rule and therefore not living in a foreign country.

After that submission “the law was no longer applied,” he said. “But the state appealed the decision in other cases where it would have to give back thousands of dunams [hundreds of acres] and compensate Palestinians for their confiscated goods.”

The government had argued that accepting that Palestinians in the West Bank were not absentee owners could open the way to annulling all seizures in East Jerusalem carried out under that law.

The Palestine Liberation Organization condemned the latest court ruling as aiming to “legalize the occupation’s theft.”

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