Americans for Peace Now Benjamin Netanyahu Irving Moscowitz Israel Jerusalem Palestinians

Netanyahu cynically plays the civil rights card to explain Jerusalem housing

On the Americans for Peace Now blog, the relentlessly smart Lara Friedman and attorney Danny Seidemann refute Netanyahu’s faux civil rights arguments about Jerusalem housing. To fully appreciate the post, you must have a willingness to wade through the details of arcane real estate law, but the devil, quite literally, is in those details. Here it is, quoted in full:

Setting the Record Straight: Palestinians Can’t Really Live in West Jerusalem

July 20, 2009, posted by Lara Friedman

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argued passionately in the Israeli cabinet meeting that Israelis have the right to live anywhere in Jerusalem. In his enthusiasm to defend this latest Irving Moskowitz project (the same Irving Moskowitz who was a key player in Netanyahu’s Hasmonean Tunnel debacle), Netanyahu gushed:

“This has been the policy of all Israeli governments and I would like to say that it is indeed being implemented because in recent years hundreds of apartments in Jewish neighborhoods and in the western part of the city have been purchased by – or rented to – Arab residents and we did not interfere. This says that there is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the western part of the city and there is no ban on Jews buying or building apartments in the eastern part of the city.”

The problem with this argument is that it isn’t true. Israeli lawyer and Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann sets the record straight with the following points:

– Virtually all of West Jerusalem is off-limits to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in terms of their ability to purchase property. This is because most of West Jerusalem, like most of Israel, is “State Land” (in all, 93% of land in Israel is “state land”). Under Israeli law, to qualify to purchase property on “state land” the purchaser must either be a citizen of Israel (Palestinian Jerusalemites are legal residents if the city, not citizens of Israel) or legally entitled to citizenship under the law of return (i.e. Jewish). This means an Israeli or a Jew from anywhere in the world can purchase such property in West Jerusalem, but not a Palestinian resident of the city. (Technically, by the way, these are actually not purchases but long-term leases.)

– With respect to the small amount of private land in West Jerusalem, legally there are no limitations on Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem purchasing in such areas. Similarly, there are no legal limitations on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem renting in West Jerusalem. However, Danny (who is extremely familiar with East Jerusalem and its residents) does not know of a single case of a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem residing in West Jerusalem, either through purchase or rental of property. (This is distinct from Arab citizens of Israel, a small number of who do live in West Jerusalem). The reasons for this are social, cultural, and economic, and as far as State Lands go, legal.

– In addition, it should be emphasized that the ban on purchase of property on “State Lands” by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem extends to East Jerusalem. Not only are Palestinian Jerusalemites barred from purchasing property in nearly all of West Jerusalem, but they are also barred from purchasing property in the 35% of East Jerusalem that Israel has expropriated as “state land” since 1967, and on which Israel’s East Jerusalem settlements have been built. This means that in more than 1/3 of East Jerusalem, Israelis and Jews from anywhere in the world have a right to buy property in Israeli settlements, but not Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, including the very residents whose land was expropriated to build these settlements.

– A small number of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have rented apartments in some East Jerusalem settlements (principally French Hill, Pisgat Zeev, and Neve Yaacov – all settlements that are so far “east” that they are increasingly less attractive to Israelis). This does not appear to reflect any political agenda to move to these areas, but rather is a byproduct of the severe housing shortage that exists in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. And it should be noted that these are short-term rentals from their Israeli owners (as opposed to formal leases by the titular land owner, the government of Israel, to Palestinians).

For more background on Moscowitz, check out some sources compiled by Eileen White Read on the newish “True Slant” blog. Worth a look.

4 thoughts on “Netanyahu cynically plays the civil rights card to explain Jerusalem housing

  1. The land isn’t state land though. The majority of land in Israel is held by the Jewish Agency, and leased on the basis of long-term renewable leases (the land-trust model).

    The Israeli Supreme Court issued an opinion two years ago, that declared that the Jewish Agency could not legally only lease land to Jews or Jewish organizations, that it had to lease in a color-blind manner.

    Are you sure Seidemann is an “expert”? I’m not, but I did know that a non-state entity held the land.

    The land in the specific case (I don’t remember the details) was leased to a non-Jewish family, but the opinion did not serve as a precedent (it is rare in Israeli law for Supreme Court cases to define and/or clarify law permanently by precedent, as American or European courts do).

  2. Richard,
    Danny is an attorney who knows more about housing in Jerusalem than anyone else in the universe. Yes, he’s an expert.

  3. Can you ask him if he means “state land” or “Jewish Agency land”.

    They are different.

    The point that it is not privately held land, in the way that we think of it, is understood. More built on the leasehold model.

    Its a wonderful model, that land cannot be personal property, but that is held in some trust for the future.

    The exclusively Jewish clauses of the Jewish agency charter, nationalize that trust, rather than universalize it though. (I know of no actual universalization of trust management, as it all ends up being decided through some specific group process, through some specific committee of specific people, deciding on their own set of concerns.)


    The Israel Land Administration (ILA), (Hebrew: מנהל מקרקעי ישראל‎) is part of the government of Israel responsible for managing the 93% of the land in Israel which is in the public domain. These lands are either property of the state, belong to the Jewish National Fund(JNF), or belong to the Israel Development Authority. This land comprises 4,820,500 acres (19,508 km2). “Ownership” of real estate in Israel usually means leasing rights from the ILA for a period of 49 or 98 years.

    Court rulings

    The Israel Land Administration manages both the land directly owned by the Government and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) land. The JNF’s charter prohibits it from leasing land to non-Jews. In addition, the Jewish Agency, an organization that promotes Jewish immigration to the country and develops residential areas on both public and JNF land, as a matter of policy does not lease land to non-Jews. In 2000, the High Court ruled that the State may not allocate land to its citizens on the basis of religion or nationality, even if it allocates the land through a third party such as the Jewish Agency. The Court’s decision precludes any restrictions on the leasing or sale of land based on nationality, religion, or any other discriminatory category. With respect to this ruling, official JNF policy has not changed; no other cases arose after the initial 2000 ruling during the period covered by this report.[1]

    In October 2004, civil rights groups petitioned the High Court of Justice to block a Government bid announcement involving JNF land that effectively banned Arabs from bidding. The Government then halted marketing of JNF land in the Galilee and other areas of the north, where there are large Arab populations. In December 2004, Adalah petitioned the High Court to require the Government to apply nondiscriminatory procedures for allocating land and to conduct open land sales/leases to Arabs as well as to Jews. In January 2005, the Attorney General ruled that the Government cannot discriminate against Israeli Arabs in the marketing and allocation of lands it manages, including lands that the Israel Land Administration manages for the Jewish National Fund. Adalah criticized the Attorney General, however, for also deciding that the Government should compensate the JNF with land equal in size to any plots of JNF land won by non-Jewish citizens in government tenders.[1]

    I confused the Jewish Agency with the Jewish National Fund. Still, administration is not the same as “state land”.

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