With disappointing disregard for his role as protector of the rule of law, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has approved using the Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem – a decision that enables the expropriation of property in the city from Palestinian residents of the territories. Applying the Absentee Property Law to East Jerusalem is part of an effort to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods and create an artificial separation between the West Bank and Jerusalem, and especially between them and the Palestinians who live in these areas. This effort has found expression in other ways as well, first and foremost the separation barrier.
The law, which was problematic from the start, was applied after the War of Independence with the goal of enabling the state to appropriate the property of Palestinians who were living outside the state’s borders, mainly in refugee camps, without any possibility of entering Israel. The attempt to apply it again following the Six-Day War, after some of the territory conquered in that war was annexed to Jerusalem, took place under completely different circumstances. The owners of these assets became “absentees” despite the fact that they never left their place of residence, and even though they lived outside the annexed territory, they still had access to their property. The attorney general at that time, Meir Shamgar, therefore ordered that the law not be exercised, on the grounds that applying it under these new circumstances would constitute unjustified eviction and violation of property rights.
In a 2006 ruling, Judge Boaz Okon termed the attempt to apply this law “a legal trick not backed by any reality” and “a type of jurisprudence without justice.” Supreme Court President Asher Grunis once asked why the law shouldn’t also be applied to property inside Israel owned by settlers, since they too live outside the state’s borders. Former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz also ordered that the law not be exercised. In addition, applying this law in territory that Israel annexed unilaterally after seizing it during wartime would violate international law, despite the fact that Israel has applied its laws to East Jerusalem.
In contrast to his predecessor, who was scrupulous about upholding the rule of law, human rights and the public interest, Weinstein is promoting “jurisprudence without justice” that violates the rights of Palestinians in the service of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem that have taken over the property of these present “absentees.” He would do better to shelve this procedure, follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and refuse to apply the law.
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