New Pro-Settlement Guidelines on Absentee Property Law

Back in May 2013, we reported on recent developments related to the Absentee Property Law in Jerusalem. Last week, there was a new development in this saga: on August 14th Haaretz broke the story that, in a follow-up to Attorney General’s Weinstein’s May 2013 report to the Supreme Court (for Haaretz’s report on this, see here), the Attorney General’s office has drafted new procedures to submit to the Court. Under these new procedures, Palestinians “with a security record or connection to hostile elements” would not be eligible to reclaim property seized under the Absentee Property Law, even if their legal rights to the property has been established (meaning the land should never have been seized in the first place).

This framing is extremely problematic, since most Palestinians have some connection to someone that Israel could label a “hostile element,” if this includes, say, family members living in or traveling to other countries in the region, family members who have been arrested for or convicted of  violent or non-violent actions viewed by Israel as security offenses, etc…

Moreover, it should be noted that by adding this requirement, the Attorney General is expanding the scope of the Absentee Property Law beyond its written intent (and its implementation up to this point). The law was written to give Israel a legal basis to seize land whose owners were absent at specific periods in history (and present in enemy territory). The law was not written to permit Israel to seize land as a punitive measure, regardless of whether the owner is an absentee.

In addition, according to Haaretz the new procedures stipulate that the decision whether to return properties to other Palestinians (i.e., those not already dsqualified for their security record or connection to ‘hostile elements’), once legal right to the properties has been established, must take into account, “the influence releasing the property would have given its location in the fabric of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods.” Haaretz notes that “This would make it difficult for a Palestinian to get back his property if Jews had moved into the adjacent areas.”

Haaretz goes on:

“Danny Zeidman [Seidemann], who researches Israeli policies in East Jerusalem, says this criterion will allow Jewish settlement nuclei in Arab neighborhoods to grow. ‘The legal system is telling residents of East Jerusalem, As far as your rights are concerned, you are a tolerated minority, and your rights hang in the balance. You are always suspect and your presence, your property rights, and your ability to express yourself are not assumed, but are a handout we give you.’”