A-G: Israel to stop using 1950 law to confiscate east Jerusalem Arab properties for Jews

High Court may still demand personal appearance of Weinstein.

Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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.
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 Jerusalem.
Any other conclusion would be “ahistorical,” Feldman said.
He also slammed a committee that Weinstein appointed to study each specific controversy.
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 people.
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 fighting.
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 not.
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 Uganda.