Supreme Court rules drafts of Declaration of Independence can’t go under hammer
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Supreme Court rules drafts of Declaration of Independence can’t go under hammer

Overturning lower court decision, justices say family of attorney who composed documents does not own them; papers to be handed over to state archives

One of the 12 draft pages of Israel's Declaration of Independence that the High Court of Justice has ruled must be handed over to the state archives (Courtesy of Kedem Auction House)
One of the 12 draft pages of Israel's Declaration of Independence that the High Court of Justice has ruled must be handed over to the state archives (Courtesy of Kedem Auction House)

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the privately held drafts of Israel’s Declaration of Independence are state property and cannot be sold at auction, overturning a ruling by a lower court.

After years of legal wrangling over the documents, the court accepted the position of the state and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, with a panel of three judges writing that the drafts were “part of Israel’s cultural assets, a testimony to our past, part of our collective identity.”

Justices argued there was “significant public interest to the return of the documents to state custody.”

The case has its beginnings in 2015, when an auction house announced its intent to sell the 12 handwritten pages to the highest bidder.

Drafted by attorney Mordechai Beham in April 1948, the papers outlined the establishment of independent rule in Mandatory Palestine and determined that the provisional government would assume authority and responsibility for the administration of the nascent Jewish state.

The papers were kept by Beham and were held by his family for decades until his children decided to offer them up for sale.

Jerusalem’s Kedem Auction House set the starting bid at $250,000, and said bidding could reach $1 million.

But the state immediately obtained a court injunction, asserting that as the documents were composed as part of Beham’s work for the pre-state legal apparatuses that later coalesced into the Justice Ministry, they were in fact state property.

Beham’s family fought back, saying he was a private individual who was helping draft the documents as a volunteer, and not as an employee of any institution.

In 2017 the Jerusalem District Court ruled in favor of Beham’s estate. Monday’s Supreme Court decision overturned that decision.

The documents are now to be handed over to the state archives for safekeeping.

The State Archives welcomed the ruling, calling it “a precedent-setting decision” that reinforces that “Israel’s cultural assets… belong to the state, for the use of society and its collective memory — and not the employee who created them.”

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