Friday, April 23, 2010

Reflections on real estate

The subject of real estate and land ownership has always been a very political issue in Israel since its inception - and indeed, long before. One of the hallowed principles of the Zionist movement was "Redemption of the Land" – i.e., land on which Arabs are living is "unfree" and should be "redeemed" by passing it over to Jewish ownership.

Under Ottoman and British rule, "Redemption of the Land" was slow and piecemeal, "a dunam here, a dunam there" to quote a famous song. But in 1948 came the opportunity to "redeem" a large part of the country in one blow. The houses and lands of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees were defined as "Abandoned Property" and all of them redivided among Jews.

62 years later, it cannot be done so massively and bluntly, but still many of the senior and junior officials act upon the principle that transferring lands and houses from Arab to Jewish possession is land redemption. We see it at Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan in East Jerusalem. So it is with the ever-expanding settlements throughout the West Bank. But also in the mixed cities of Ramle and Lod, Acre and Jaffa and not to forget the Bedouin villages exposed to ever new destruction in raids by officials, while in their vicinity the government encourages the creation of "individual farms" (by individual Jews).

And what happens when there are no Arabs left on the ground, and there remains only the question of how exactly to divide it among the Jews, and which Jews exactly will get the lion's share? Would that be done by the application of fair and equitable and transparent standards, adhering to all the proper rules of public administration?

Is it just a coincidence that Israel is wracked by ever-new corruption scandals, touching upon the highest levels, ever again concerning the state authorities' control of real estate?