When the New York Times, the Associated Press and other media outlets recently reported on a new controversial Israeli policy regarding Arab land in eastern Jerusalem, it was relying on an exposé from Ha’aretz Magazine. Entitled “Land Lords,” the Jan. 21, 2005 article by Meron Rapaport contains a serious factual error which editors refuse to correct. Instead, Ha’aretz Magazine ran the following letter from CAMERA in the Jan. 28 edition:
Right to compensation
Regarding “Land Lords,” Haaretz Magazine, January 21
Regarding the Absentee Property Law, it was erroneously reported: “The law stipulates that the property of such an absentee would be transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property, with no possibility of appeal or compensation” (emphasis added). This is false, as both appeal and compensation are possible, and landowners have exercised these rights and been compensated.
With respect to compensation, according to the Israel Lands Administration, as of 1993, 14,692 Arabs claimed compensation under the Absentee Property Law and the Validation and Compensation Law. Claims were settled with respect to 200,905 dunams of land, a total of NIS 9,956,828 had been paid as compensation, and 54,481 dunams of land had been given in compensation (Israel Lands Administration Report for 1993).
Likewise, landowners have appealed land seizures that fell under the Absentee Property Law. (See, for example, Kauer v. Custodian of Absentee Property (1963), Kauer v. Custodian of Absentee Property (1950), and Palmoni v. Custodian of Absentee Property (1952)). In his book “The Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel” (Westview Press), David Kretzmer discusses in detail the possibility of appeal:
“The law recognizes the right of a person, who may be defined as an absentee, to confirmation that he is not an absentee, and therefore to release of his absentee property, if the Custodian is of the opinion that he left his place of residence (1) for fear that the enemies of Israel might cause him harm, or (2) otherwise than by reason or for fear of military operations. (sec 27).
“The onus is on the person seeking confirmation that he is not an absentee to prove that the reason for leaving his residence was one of the reasons which entitle him to such confirmation. On a number of occasions, the Supreme Court did interfere in the decision of the Custodian and directed him to grant confirmation of non-absentee status” (p. 57).
CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)
Meron Rapaport replies: The right to claim compensation does not apply to residents of the West Bank who have property within the municipal borders of Jerusalem, like the people in the story.
While the right to claim compensation may not apply in the case of West Bank residents, Rapaport, head of the news division, nevertheless made an error which requires correction. His misstatement that there is “no possibility of appeal or compensation” was in the context of general background information about the Absentee Property Law, and was not limited to the specific cases of West Bank resident Johnny Atik and others like him. The passage in question reads:
The Absentee Property Law (sometimes known as the Abandoned Property Law) was enacted in 1950. It defines an “absentee” as a person who “at any time” in the period between November 29, 1947, and September 1, 1948, “was in any part of the Land of Israel that is outside the territory of Israel” (meaning the West Bank or the Gaza Strip) or in other Arab states. The law stipulates that the property of such an absentee would be transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property, with no possibility of appeal or compensation. From there, by means of another law, the property was moved along, so that effectively the assets that were left behind by Palestinian refugees in 1948 (and also some of the property of Palestinians who were now citizens of Israel, the famous “present absentees”) were “transferred” to the State of Israel.