The Supreme Court has upheld a controversial law which allows Israel to confiscate the property of so-called “absentee” Palestinian owners, residing in territories not under full Israeli control. Judges hope the state won’t abuse the legislation.
“I do not see any
reason to strike down the law and impede its use under all
circumstances,” said the head of the seven-person panel,
judge Asher Grunis, in his concluding remarks. He expressed hope
however that the authorities would “avoid wherever possible
to use the law.”
“In our opinion there may be rare situations where the law
will be enacted on property in Jerusalem that had been owned by
Arabs living in Judea and Samaria. Under those circumstances, the
government would need to get the permission of the Attorney
General before acting,” said Grunis.
The law was initially adopted following the Arab-Israeli war of
1948, and allowed Jews to “legally” repossess properties
of Arabs who fled during the conflict, and were now stationed in
“enemy territory.” The legislation was used to seize
thousands of properties.
The law acquired a new twist in 1967, when Israel gained control
of East Jerusalem after the Six-Day War. Now, a whole new group
of Palestinians were suddenly under threat of having homes in
that part of the city taken away, even if the “enemy
territory” they resided in was the West Bank, also
controlled by Israel.
The force of the law has seesawed over the years, as judges and
governments have fought to suspend the ability of the government
to repossess houses and give them to an official Custodian, who
would use them for “the development of the country.”
Its application has always been selective and arbitrary – in
recent years conservative Zionist groups have used the
legislation to up the share of Jews living in Jerusalem.
Even Grunis admitted that in its current form it was not legally
“The absurdity of the working of this law, a soldier sent by
the government to serve in the territories [West Bank], or an
enemy county, could have his property declared
as“absentee property,” said the judge.
Avigdor Feldman, a lawyer for multiple Palestinians, whose cases
led to Supreme Court review, criticized the judges for admitting
to issues with the law, but leaving it in place.
“The justices demonstrated a very formalistic approach. They
determined that it is not proper, but have passed the buck to the
courts, attorney general and the Custodian. They have asked to
trust the generosity of the state not to make use of [the law].
That is running away from responsibility. It is clear that the
law was created during a different situation and for other
purposes, and is not appropriate for the present