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Israel court to rule on controversial property law

Sept. 10, 2013 11:21 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 11, 2013 4:13 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel's high court on Tuesday will discuss whether to apply a controversial law in East Jerusalem which would enable the Israeli government to seize private Palestinian property.

The Absentees' Property Law (1950) was originally enacted to transfer the property of Palestinian refugees, who had been forcibly displaced in 1948, to the state of Israel.

A court hearing on Tuesday will determine whether the law can be applied to property in East Jerusalem which is owned by Palestinians who live in the occupied West Bank.

In June, Israeli attorney general Yehuda Weinstein wrote a recommendation to the Israeli government which supported applying the law to Palestinians residing outside of Israel's unilaterally declared Jerusalem boundaries.

In effect, the law would mean that Palestinians forced to flee their Jerusalem properties, who now reside in the occupied West Bank, would be considered "absentees," enabling the Israeli government to seize their land.

Weintsein will not be present at Tuesday's court session but other officials from his office will attend.

Khalil Tafakji, a Palestinian expert on settlements, told Ma'an that only 13 percent of land in Jerusalem is now accessible to Palestinians, and that percentage would decrease significantly if the Absentees' Property Law is applied to occupied East Jerusalem.

The law could be used to take control of private property from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank who live "only meters away from their properties," he said.

The Israeli high court may rule that each case be reviewed individually, therefore enabling the Israeli government to apply the law without provoking a strong reaction from the Palestinian Authority or international community.

Israel could also claim that the so-called "absentee properties" will be used for public purposes, Tafakji added.

Dr. Muatasim An-Nasser, a specialist in political history and Jerusalem, told Ma'an that Israel has been using the Absentees' Property Law to "legalize theft."

The law has been used as a pretext to take control of land belonging to Palestinians who were forcibly displaced and sought refuge in other areas of Palestine, or other Arab countries, he added.

"The Israeli government decided previously to annex East Jerusalem, but without including its residents. Thus, residency is subject to Israel's mood or is considered an interim residency until all the residents' properties are under Israel's control."

Applying the law to East Jerusalem is a clear violation of international law, "which Israel has always violated," An-Nasser added.

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said in June that applying the law would be "another very dangerous, provocative move to consolidate Israel's hold in East Jerusalem."

"East Jerusalem is occupied territory and Israel has no business annexing it or applying this property law."

Israeli rights group Ir Amim says that the "use of the Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem is another tool to deepen the Israeli stronghold of an area whose future is subject to political dispute, by the unilateral dictation of facts on the ground."
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