Text size

A document recently uncovered in Ottoman archives in Ankara confirms that Palestinians are the owners of disputed land and houses in East Jerusalem.

If an Israeli court accepts the document's validity, Palestinian families' could be saved from eviction from their homes.

Turkish officials recently helped to trace the document which could end a 30-year-old dispute over the ownership of around 30 buildings in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

The Palestinians' attorneys said they were granted access to the archives following the recent souring of the relations between Israel and Turkey.

"Until half a year ago the Turks didn't want to spoil their relations with Israel and were unhelpful," attorney Hatam Abu Ahmed said. "They would put us off with all kinds of excuses. Today their attitude has changed. We felt this change especially after the Gaza operation. Now senior Turkish officials are helping us."

In January, attorney Salah Abu Hussein traveled to Turkey and with the help of local officials found a document proving that the Jews demanding the Palestinians' eviction are not the compound's rightful owners.

The present residents had lived in West Jerusalem before the War of Independence and after becoming refugees were moved to Sheikh Jarrah. In the '70s the Sephardic Leadership in Jerusalem claimed they had purchased the land before the war and produced Turkish documents to that effect.

The courts eventually recognized the Sephardic Leadership's ownership but granted the Palestinians protected tenants' status.

However, the Sephardic Leadership and a group of settlers who moved into the nearby compound have been demanding the Palestinians' eviction, claiming they violated their rental terms.

Over the years, several Palestinian families were evicted and other families moved into their houses. The last eviction took place in November 2008 when the al-Kurd family was evicted from its home and moved into a protest tent near its sealed house. Shortly afterward the father, Mohamed al-Kurd died of an illness.

Throughout the years, the Palestinians claimed that the Jews' ownership documents were forged, but due to the Turks' lack of cooperation they could not prove this and the courts rejected their suits.

Now the attorneys say the Ottoman document proves that the Sephardic Leadership never purchased the compound but only rented it. Another Ottoman document confirms that the document presented by the Jewish party is not authentic.

"There is no trace of the Jewish document in the archive," said Abu Hussein.

The attorneys Wednesday asked the court to withhold eviction procedures against two Palestinian families, on the basis of the Turkish document.

The about face in Turkish policy could have far-reaching implications regarding lands in Israel.

"Now it will be possible to issue ownership deeds. The Turks are very well organized and helpful," Abu Ahmed said.

Attorney Ilan Shemer, who represents the Sephardic Leadership, dismissed the Palestinian attorneys' claims regarding Palestinian ownership of the land.

"It's usually the other side that uses false documents. The document we have is the only authentic ownership deed. Since the hearings began, 50 to 60 judges have heard the case and they all ruled that their claims are false."

Consul meets on house razings

United States Consul General in Jerusalem Jacob Walles met Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat last Thursday to explain American policy toward house demolitions in Jerusalem.

City officials said Walles said the new administration was less tolerant toward the continued demolitions.

Barkat told Walles the demolition orders were for illegally built structures and that the demolitions were not in the mayor's control.