- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

JERUSALEM — Israel has quietly seized tracts of Jerusalem land owned by Palestinian residents of the West Bank after they were cut off from their property by Israel’s separation barrier, attorneys for the landowners said.

The land was taken after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided several months ago to enforce a long-dormant law that allows Israel to seize lands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out during the 1948-49 Middle East war that followed Israel’s creation.

The new policy, first reported in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, could affect hundreds of Palestinians who own property in Jerusalem and is sure to raise the stakes in the stormy battle over the city, which Israelis and Palestinians both claim as their capital.

The landowners affected so far live in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, just south of Jerusalem. Their land was taken in August, after Israel’s West Bank separation barrier cut them off from their land in the city.

According to documents from Israel’s Finance and Justice ministries, the land was transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property, a body formed by a 1950 law that allowed the seizure of property of Palestinians who had left Israel during the war.

Bethlehem resident Johnny Atik said yesterday that he lost 8 acres of olive groves within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries as a result of the policy. The land is 100 yards from his home, on the other side of an electronic fence and patrol road that are part of the separation barrier.

“The olives fall on the ground,” he said. “We see them, but we can’t get to them.”

Mr. Atik said 40 families in his neighborhood alone have lost land.

Hundreds of other Palestinians are at risk of having land seized, said lawyers Daniel Seidemann and Mohammed Dahla, who represent several of the landowners.

Mr. Atik plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. But Israeli legal analyst Moshe Negbi, who is often critical of Israeli moves in the West Bank, said an appeal to the high court probably would fail.

“I think it would stand up to a Supreme Court appeal, because unfortunately, the law allows for this,” he said. “It isn’t logical, because East Jerusalem was also part of the West Bank, but from the point of view of Israeli law, that’s the situation.”

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