Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced a major policy reversal on Wednesday
in which the government would stop using a 1950 law to confiscate east Jerusalem
properties from Arabs for the benefit of Jews and the state.
announced its decision as a response to a May High Court of Justice decision
demanding it explain its position in using the 1950 Absentee Property Law to
confiscate land in east Jerusalem.
Significantly, the High Court demanded
and may still require that Weinstein make a personal appearance in court to
answer the petition against application of the law.
Avigdor Feldman – one
of the country’s best-known lawyers, especially in Palestinian-related causes –
said the state’s policy reversal was not nearly enough.
The state must
“reject all of its old position,” he said, since the east Jerusalem Arab lands
in question were “not absentee property.”
He said the state must not only
stop using the 1950 law, but declare that it could never apply in east
Any other conclusion would be “ahistorical,” Feldman
He also slammed a committee that Weinstein appointed to study each
Stating that the committee’s guidelines “make no
sense,” he noted that the committee had been told to consider “security issues”
in making decisions about whether property was absentee.
“How is security
connected [to the legal question of whether a specific parcel of land is]
absentee property?” Feldman asked rhetorically.
Security, he argued,
could not be part of the legal analysis of whether the land was absentee
property belonging to the state, or whether it belonged to specific
After the War of Independence, the law was used to take over
homes and lands that Arabs had left empty or abandoned during or following the
The current controversy concerns to what extent the state can
do the same in east Jerusalem, with all of the legal, political and
international issues involved. Reportedly the state has had inconsistent
policies on using the law over the years, sometimes invoking it and sometimes
Former attorneys-general Menahem Mazuz and Meir Shamgar, as well as
other prominent legal officials, have opposed its use.
Weinstein said he
stood with Mazuz and Shamgar against using the legislation due to international
law and administrative law difficulties it would cause, but defended the idea
that the law could theoretically apply.
In accordance with the new
policy, Weinstein said the Custodian of Absentee Property would release
Jerusalem’s Cliff Hotel to Palestinian West Bank residents claiming ownership;
would release money relating to another property that other Palestinians have
claimed to own; and was in the process of checking the credentials of other
Palestinians claiming ownership of additional properties.
It also said it
had dropped one case entirely following a lower court’s final ruling that the
property in question was not “absentee property.”
The state added that it
had told the Custodian of Absentee Property not to release one of the
properties, because the claim arose from family connections to one of the
Entebbe hijackers whom the IDF rescue team killed during the 1976 operation in