Israel Cements Ownership of Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City

State is registering Jewish-owned property in bid to legally assert Jewish, Israeli control over area captured by IDF in 1967 Six-Day War.

More than 40 years after it gained control of East Jerusalem, the State of Israel is now registering Jewish-owned property in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter as such, in a bid to legally assert Jewish and Israeli control over the area the Israel Defense Forces seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The registration is the result of a lengthy inspection, which was initiated after the Housing Ministry decided to register the property under Jewish owners five years ago. The registration process is being managed for the state by the government-owned Firm for the Development of the Jewish Quarter. CEO Nissim Arazi says the process is complex and involves many difficulties.

According to Arazi, some of the difficulty owes to the fact that many buildings and plots inside the Jewish Quarter were registered as part of other plots. The process of registering buildings is particularly complex in the Jewish Quarter, Arazi says, because real estate there is divided into four subdivisions of ownership: bloc, plot, sub-plot and building. All other real-estate assets in Israel are divided into the first three criteria only.

Over the past five years, the buildings in the Jewish Quarter have all been renumbered and mapped ahead of the registration process. So far, more than 120 buildings out of a total of 600 have been registered by Jewish owners in the Land Administration.

The process revealed a large number of building violations. Many residents built cellars under their houses to expand them - without bothering to receive approval. Arazi said the process of registration in not meant to find violations. "Registering these real-estate assets has national and historic significance," he told Haaretz.

The inspection process and registration served to increase the value of the assets surveyed, with prices increasing in direct relation to the asset's proximity to the Western Wall.

The quarter itself, which stretches across 133 dunam (approximately 40 acres), was largely destroyed during Israel's War of Independence in 1948. It remained under Jordanian rule until it was seized by Israel. The quarter constitutes 15 percent of the entire area of the Old City and has undergone massive restoration and renovation over the past 40 years.

But Jews have also bought property elsewhere inside the Old City's three other quarters; the Armenian, Christian and Muslim quarters.

The Old City is 870 dunam in area. Twenty-four percent of it belongs to the Waqf, which is a form of endowment in Islam, typically devoting a building or plot of land for Muslim religious or charitable purposes.

Twenty-eight percent of the Old City belongs to private Arab residents, while the state owns some 19 percent of the lands in the area, or 170 dunam. Christian institutions hold 29 percent of the property in the Old City.

The assets are naturally not arranged according to ownership, which is to say the Old City is checkered with buildings belonging to all these various owners.

In a recently-published research, Dr. Israel Kimchi from the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and several colleagues identify a "trend of Jews purchasing property across the Muslim Quarter," which is the largest and most populous of the four quarters, situated in the northeastern corner of the Old City.

According to Kimchi's research, the acquisition of land there is designed to create contiguity of Jewish-owned buildings all the way up to state-owned land around the Flower Gate area.

Like the other three quarters of the Old City, the Muslim quarter had a mixed population of Jews as well as Muslims and Christians until the riots of 1929, and was previously called the Mixed Quarter. Today the Muslim Quarter is home to a few dozen Jewish families and a few yeshivas.

At the same time, Kimchi's team point to a "penetration of Muslim residents into the Christian Quarter," which is situated in the north-western corner of the Old City.

He also says these trends and others will probably mean that some buildings, which are defined as religious institutions will receive a different designation. "Some of the residential areas in the Christian Quarter will become religious institutions or hotels, as the number of Christian residents within the quarter continues to dwindle," he says.