May 21, 2012
by William Temple
A recent court case, from May 8 2012, reported by Haartez has highlighted how The Absentee Property Law together with unsupported affadavits has been used to secure the evictions of Palestinians from their homes in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem.
A number of legal methods have been used by Jewish organisations such as Elad and Ateret Cohanim to obtain eviction of Palestinian families from their properties, especially those in sensitive areas in East Jerusalem such as the Old City. However the objective is the same: to ‘Judaize’ such parts of East Jerusalem by evicting Palestinian families from properties they thought they owned. The state then passes the properties over to settler organisations or the Jewish National Fund (JNF) who replace them with Israeli settler families.
One method they use is exemplified by the recent decision of the Israeli Supreme Court to confirm the judgement of a lower Court and evict the families of Ghazi Zalloum and Ismail Wazwaz from their homes in the neighbourhood of al-Qurma in the Old City of Jerusalem. This ruling was based on the Court’s judgement that both properties had belonged to Jews before 1948, the date of the foundation of the State of Israel. It is a good question whether, the principle having now been established, Palestinian families will be able to recover houses they lived in before 1948 which are now occupied by Jewish families, but that’s another story.
The Haaretz report dealt with a second method based on the ‘Absentee Property Law’. Passed in 1950 but not invoked in East Jerusalem until 1977 by PM Menachem Begin, this law states that if it can be proved that a property owner was residing in an enemy country—including any Arab country and the West Bank—at the time East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967, then s/he loses the rights to his/her property.
The decision is made by the Custodian of Absentee Property, now part of the Finance Ministry. The ‘proof’ that a family was residing abroad has often been based on an affidavit, sometimes presented to the Court anonymously, that the family did indeed live abroad at that time.
Judge Miriam Mizrahi ruled in the Jerusalem District Court against the Elad settler organisation, the Jewish National Fund and various government agencies which have been trying for 25 years to evict the Roweidi family from their home in the heart of City of David National Park in Silwan. Overturning a previous Court’s ruling, she decided that the Roweidi family was the Silwan property’s rightful owner and based this decision on the dubious veracity of the affadavit, crucial to Elad’s case.
This affadavit had been supplied, initially anonymously, by a Palestinian taxi driver, Mohammed Nabulsi, who in the 1980s and 1990s supplied separate affadavits to settler organisations implicating as many as 10-15 families by stating that they lived abroad in 1967.
There was concern even then that these documents were inaccurate or forgeries and Nabulsi’s affadavits were no longer used after the 1990s. But because of the lengthy time it takes for these cases to move through the court system, the evidence of absentee status being used even now against two families, including the Roweida family, is based on a Nabulsi affadavit.
Nabulsi supplied these affadavits to attorney Eitan Geva who has for years represented settler organisations and the JNF, and he presented them during many appearances in courts including those considering the case of the Roweida family.
The question arises as to why Nabulsi’s affadavits, and presumably others like them, were used in this way and are still being used given that suspicions were voiced about their veracity at least 20 years ago. What is extraordinary is that the authorities never checked whether the families stated in the affadavits were in fact absent in 1967: many of them still lived in the houses under dispute, and didn’t know they had been declared ‘absentee’ with their first knowledge of the declaration coming when the police and the new Jewish residents came to the house in the night to evict them.
Shakarji admitted to the Knesset State Control Committee in 1992 that Nabulsi’s affadavits were used with no supporting evidence to declare a property owner ‘absentee’, thus placing the family or families in danger of eviction, but that he, the Custodian of Absentee Property, was “unable to check if this were true or not”.
Also in 1992 the Klugman Committee, appointed by Yitzak Rabin’s Government, confirmed that such affadavits were not verified, that the Custodian did not visit the properties in question, and that the signature on the affidavit was obtained by Geva, who was representing the JNF, one of the interested parties.
In 1995, a Magistrate’s Court Judge stated that the Custodian had been making unsound decisions on absentee status, and also in 1995 attorney Daniel Zeidman, an advocate for Palestinian rights, requested that the High Court of Justice stop using these affadavits. Although the State said it had launched an investigation, nothing changed and the use of the affadavits continued and presumably continues.
Why did Nabulsi serve settlers in this way, and make the lives of many Palestinian families miserable? No one knows, but the obvious answer is money.
When Elad commented on the Klugman Committee’s findings that the affadavits were unreliable it said that the Committee used partial and missing information, and did not question Elad’s right to the property it had obtained by these means.
As a personal opinion, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the use of unchecked and unreliable affadavits to evict Palestinians from their homes in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem served the objectives of many interested and important organisations and that that is why the practice has never been stopped.