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Palestinians Face Eviction from Land Near Abu Dis Covertly Transferred to State Despite Lacking Proof of Prior Jewish Ownership
26 September 2022
Ir Amim and Bimkom recently reported on the covert transfer of a plot of land located between Jabal Mukkaber and Abu Dis into the hands of the state based on claims of Jewish land ownership before 1948. According to our ongoing examination of this case, Ir Amim has now discovered that approximately 30 Palestinian families residing in and around this area have received eviction notices. The eviction notices ordered the families, numbering over 150 individuals, to vacate their homes by September 1, 2022.  Ir Amim’s examination has raised serious concerns as to the conduct of the state in this matter and casts significant doubt on claims of previous Jewish land ownership. The homes of most of the families who received the eviction demands are actually not located on the plot of land transferred into the state's hands. Moreover, the examination revealed that investigations conducted four decades ago by the state led to the conclusion that the respective plot of land is actually registered under Palestinian names, and there is no evidence of prior Jewish ownership. See more details below.

As reported previously, the General Custodian recently acted to transfer into its management 12 dunams of land (bloc 31735) in the aforementioned location in a closed court proceeding based on the claim that the property was owned by Jews prior to 1948. The General Custodian, a department within the Ministry of Justice, is the Israeli body responsible for managing pre-1948 Jewish assets in East Jerusalem. It was likewise uncovered that settlement of land title procedures (official land registration) were initiated in parallel to this move according to ongoing research conducted by Ir Amim and Bimkom. Settlement of land title was swiftly completed in just over a year with little to no transparency, leading to the bloc’s formal registration in the Tabu (land record) under the General Custodian’s management on July 14, 2022. One week later, the General Custodian’s Economic Unit swiftly acted to issue the eviction demands on July 20, 2022.  

Most Families who Face Eviction Reside Outside Bloc 31735
Although the 30 Palestinian families residing in the aforementioned area received eviction demands, according to Ir Amim's examination, the majority of their homes are located outside the boundaries of bloc 31735. Hence there should be no legal basis for their eviction. “Only” three houses appear to be situated towards the edge of this bloc. Since the families did not comply with the eviction demand to vacate their homes by September 1, it is possible the General Custodian will soon act to initiate an eviction lawsuit through the courts.

The families assert that their parents and grandparents built the homes on lands purchased from a Palestinian resident in Silwan in 1965. They likewise adamantly avow that the land had never been under the management of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. According to the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters law, which exclusively affords Jews the right to reclaim assets owned in East Jerusalem prior to 1948, the reclamation of land only applies to alleged Jewish properties previously managed by the Jordanian Custodian between 1948-1967. It should be underscored that this discriminatory law is exploited by state-backed settler groups working alongside the General Custodian to initiate eviction lawsuits against Palestinians and seize their homes in East Jerusalem, most notably in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. No parallel legal mechanism exists for Palestinians to retrieve properties lost in 1948 in West Jerusalem or other areas on the Israeli side of the Green Line.

No Proof of Past Jewish Ownership
Records which Ir Amim managed to obtain from the Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Housing, and the Civil Administration, raise serious questions about the General Custodian’s conduct with regard to bloc 31735. Between 1982-1992, the Israeli authorities conducted comprehensive examinations of land allegedly purchased by Jews in the area between East Jerusalem and Abu Dis in order to advance a settlement plan for hundreds of housing units. Some of the land was indeed transferred into the hands of the General Custodian based on records purportedly indicating Jewish ownership, while invoking the aforementioned 1970 law to “retrieve these lands.”

However, an examination conducted by the government official responsible for mapping and measurements in the Israel Land Administration’s (ILA) Jerusalem District, determined in 1982 that “there is no basis for [Jewish] ownership” for the plot of land now labeled as bloc 31735. British and Jordanian land records likewise confirm such findings. Accordingly, the land was indeed not held by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property, which as mentioned previously, managed alleged Jewish assets in East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967. Instead, an examination by the ILA revealed that since 1938, property tax payments for land ownership were paid by Palestinian property owners and that in 1965, the land was registered under Palestinian ownership. This is consistent with the statements made by the Palestinian families residing in and around bloc 31735 who are now at risk of eviction by the General Custodian.

Egregious Misconduct?
Beyond the fact that most of the families facing eviction do not even reside on the respective plot, according to Ir Amim’s examination, there is no evidence to corroborate claims of Jewish ownership of the land designated as bloc 31735. This calls into question the means in which the General Custodian registered the land under its management. Due to the fact that the procedure was carried out in a covert manner and authorized in a closed court proceeding—likely at the behest of the General Custodian—it is impossible to ascertain the basis of its claims. While the Israeli media reported that the Custodian registered the land under its management based on proof affirming Jewish land ownership from the early 20th century, the documents Ir Amim acquired refute those claims.

Moreover, even if the state has produced additional evidence to prove past Jewish ownership, it is unclear on what legal grounds the General Custodian can lay claim to the land since it was never under the management of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. As mentioned above, according to the 1970 law, only pre-1948 Jewish assets, which were held by the Jordan Custodian between 1948-1967, are transferred into the management of the Israeli General Custodian and subsequently released to their Jewish claimants if and when they are located.  

The General Custodian’s Centrality in the Settler Enterprise
It should be underscored that the General Custodian has become one of the leading state institutions working in collusion with settler groups to facilitate evictions of Palestinians and settler takeovers of their properties in East Jerusalem. In an unprecedented move, the same body is likewise behind the recent Givat HaShaked settlement plan designated for land on the northwestern side of Beit Safafa (Sharafat) where settlement of land title procedures were also initiated in lockstep with the plan’s promotion. As in Givat HaShaked, the General Custodian likely intends to initiate a settlement plan for bloc 31735 now registered under its management. The General Custodian is also one of the state authorities officially and integrally involved in the settlement of land title process, enabling it to exploit the procedures under the guise of legality to appropriate and register land in the name of Jews and/or the state.  

The current Director of the General Custodian's Economic Unit, Hananel Gurfinkel, is a rightwing activist and known supporter of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. According to our findings, under his management, collaboration with settler groups and the number of filed eviction claims against Palestinians have grown substantially. This ongoing (and increasing) misconduct of the General Custodian along with its unholy alliance with settler groups is what lead Ir Amim to file a Supreme Court petition in 2020 against the institution’s lack of procedural regulations pertaining to its management of East Jerusalem assets. The petition argued that the absence of such regulations leads to the Custodian’s gross misuse of its authority to displace Palestinians for the benefit of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Since then, the General Custodian’s actions have only grown more questionable and brazen, amounting to a dereliction of duty and breach of their mandate, which severely infringes on Palestinian property rights and creates more facts on the ground to predetermine the political future of Jerusalem.

Such developments confirm that the General Custodian under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice is underhandedly and systematically exploiting all mechanisms at its disposal to accelerate state appropriation of more land, expand Israeli settlement, and increase Palestinian dispossession in East Jerusalem. These measures have been carried out under both the previous government and current caretaker government lead by Prime Minister Lapid who characterizes himself as a moderate centrist and recently publicly declared his support for a two-state framework in a speech at the UN General Assembly.
Ir Amim will continue to report on further developments
Bloc 31735 is marked in red just south of the Kidmat Zion area.

Click here for larger version of the map
Please address all inquiries to:

Amy Cohen
Director of International Relations & Advocacy
Ir Amim (City of Nations/City of Peoples)
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