|The following alert has been jointly issued by Ir Amim and Bimkom.
For the first time in 53 years, Israel has underhandedly began land registration procedures in East Jerusalem, exclusively registering land rights of properties to alleged Jewish owners without the public's knowledge. Such a move is unprecedented and has potential acute ramifications on Palestinian properties across East Jerusalem, which could ultimately lead to widespread Palestinian dispossession in the city. These measures are being carried out under the guise of the 2018 Government Decision 3790 – “Narrowing Socioeconomic Gaps & Promoting Economic Development in East Jerusalem,” which includes a provision to promote land registration. The Israeli authorities have initiated these proceedings in the Umm Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah, located in the Old City Basin, the most politically contested and religiously sensitive area of Jerusalem. Due to the acute absence of due process in the land registration procedures, the Sheikh Jarrah community association, together with Bimkom--Planners for Planning Rights and Ir Amim, filed an urgent petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice.
Discovery of Severe Violation of Administrative Procedures
Against the backdrop of impending evictions of Palestinian families from the Kerem Al'ajoni section (eastern part) of Sheikh Jarrah, severe lack of due process was recently uncovered in land registration measures being carried out by Israel in the Umm Haroun side of the neighborhood (western part). Israeli authorities have been underhandedly registering plots of land in the neighborhood under alleged Jewish ownership without the knowledge of Palestinian residents as required by Israeli law. Approximately 45 Palestinian families, mostly 1948 refugees, live in roughly 40 housing units on these plots in Umm Haroun. The land registration procedures are being conducted alongside ongoing eviction lawsuits leveled against Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah by settler groups with the assistance of state authorities, including the General Custodian.
On May 2, Ir Amim and Bimkom along with the Sheikh Jarrah community association submitted the petition to the Israeli High Court, demanding the immediate freeze of land registration in Um Haroun. The petition was filed on the grounds that the land registration procedures were executed without notifying the Palestinian families who have been residing there for decades and thus denying them the legal ability to defend their rights with regard to the properties. Yesterday (May 3), the court issued a temporary injunction, provisionally freezing the completion of the registration process until a decision is handed down. The state has been given until June 3, 2021 to respond to the petition.
Land Grab under the Guise of Government Decision No. 3790
The land registration processes were initiated as part of the Government Decision No. 3790, which is ostensibly intended to reduce socio-economic disparities and promote economic development in Palestinian East Jerusalem. The Decision provides for an investment of approximately 50 million NIS to promote land registration in East Jerusalem. Land registration of property rights is crucial for urban development and one of the prerequisites for procuring building permits. However, while the decision includes the issue of land registration, it lacks any provision for the promotion of residential development in Palestinian neighborhoods—one of the most crucial issues facing Palestinian residents. Since the decision’s approval, there has been widespread concern among East Jerusalem Palestinians that the land registration processes will be exploited to confiscate Palestinian land for political purposes.
As the petition discloses, the state, under the guise of a provision aimed at improving the well-being of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, has been exploiting the mechanism to solely register land under Jewish ownership without sorting out the potential property claims, including the rights of long-term residents who do not necessarily have an alternative housing solution.
The Legal Arguments
The petition describes a series of violations of administrative procedures in the land registration measures carried out within the bloc in Umm Haroun, which includes several plots of land. Contrary to regulations stipulated in Israeli law, there was no publication concerning the land registration process to allow for public participation, and no professional visits were conducted by land registration officers in the neighborhood. The entire process was devoid of due process, and no discussions were initiated with the Palestinian residents concerning the procedure and their right to file claims regarding the properties in question. The rapid registration and atypical acceleration of these procedures in comparison with other blocs undergoing similar registration processes within the framework of the government decision raises suspicions of an attempt to deliberately gain control of this bloc of land.
As laid out in the petition, land registration proceedings began in 1958 during the period of Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem and were carried out by the relevant Jordanian authority. As a result of the procedures, the plots of land at the time were consolidated and registered under the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. The respective properties were later transferred to the control of the State of Israel and came under the management of the Israeli General Custodian, pursuant to section five (a) of the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law. Since 1967, over the course of many years following the end of the Jordanian land arrangement, the policy of the State of Israel has been to refrain from continuing the land registration processes in East Jerusalem. Now, the state is beginning to initiate land registration under the auspices of the aforementioned government decision, intended for the benefit of Palestinian residents, but is in fact being exploited to displace Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem.
On the basis of these arguments, the organizations demanded that the High Court freeze the land registration in this bloc until the legal issues laid out in the petition are clarified. They likewise called upon the court to expunge all invalid land registration as a result of this unethical procedure.
In parallel to the abovementioned petition, a request was submitted for an urgent hearing in the context of an additional petition filed in December 2020 by the Sheikh Jarrah community association and Ir Amim, concerning the necessity for the Israel General Custodian to establish ethical procedural regulations for property management specifically in Sheikh Jarrah and in East Jerusalem as a whole. As the land registration procedures reveal, the General Custodian has been integrally involved in the measures being carried out in Sheikh Jarrah. Yesterday, the court ordered the General Custodian to address both the petition claims and the urgent hearing request in their response due May 6.