Sunday, August 19, 2007

Israel Racism Watch -- How the Israel Land Authority and Ateret Kohahim Are Grabbing Palestinian Land in Jerusalem

According to Meron Rappoport reporting in today’s Haaretz on line here in Hebrew, and here in English, an appeal was presented two weeks ago to the High Court against the Israel Land Authority (ILA) for stripping the Palestinian owners of thirty dunams of land in East Jerusalem, and leasing it “for agricultural purposes” to Ateret Kohanim, the extremist settler’s organization that seizes control of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem for Jewish settlement. The lease was effected without a tender; Ateret Kohanim has no experience in agriculture. According to the appeal, the clerk in the ILA acted in conjunction with Ateret Kohanim in order to block the plans of the owners, the Arab Hotels Company, to begin the construction of a hotel complex on the area.

The land was formally expropriated only this March, forty years after the government announced its intention to do so. The former minister of the treasury executed the expropriation as “a purchase in the public interest.” According to the suit now before the High Court, the expropriation was done “for a goal that was extranenous, inappropriate, racist, and discriminatory…”

The land was purchased in the 1960s by the Arab Hotels Company when East Jerusalem was in Jordanian hands. Following the 1967 war, the Israeli Treasury announced its intention to expropriate the land, but the announcement was never carried out, and the courts have recognized the Arab company twice over the years as the owners. Seven years ago, the company presented plans to build a hotel and conference center, a plan that was supported by then Jerusalem mayor, Ehud Olmert. Yet at a certain stage, according to the company’s lawyers, Ateret Kohanim also presented a plan for a Jewish neighborhood to be built on the same land, and the ILA awarded the land for planing to that organization, backed by the American millionaire Irwin Moscowitz. The owners appealed to the Jerusalem planning board, which told them that the Ateret Cohanim plan had been shelved.

In the meantime, a Palestinian squatter, at the behest of Ateret Kohanim, has been staying on the land. A Jerusalem court ordered the squatter to be evicted, at the request of the Palesitnian owners, but Amidar, in the name of the ILA, filed a suit to block the eviction.

In the present suit, the government claims to owns 20% of the land because of the Present Absentee law [a law which allowed the government to expropriate territory in which the owners were not present at the date the law was passed], whereas the Arab company claims that the land was purchased from the original owner (the Jerusalem Mufti) prior to 1967. The ILA claims that it has been leasing the land to Ateret Kohanim for years. The rent is approximately 10 dollars a dunam, a ridiculously low price for that area.

Relying on past decisions of the High Court that determined that if the state does not realize a declared expropriation for many years, the expropriation can be cancelled. The Arab company now is asking the court to issue a “conditional order” requesting from the state why it does not cancel the expropriation. Even the state admits that if it owns only 20% of the land and cannot explain how it has rented land that does not belong to it to Ateret Kohahim

The Haaretz editorial lambasting the state can be found here.

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