Jerusalem: Land Title Settlement and Expropriation
Journal of Israeli History: Politics, Society, Culture, Volume 23, Issue 2, 2004
Posted: 4 Apr 2012 Last revised: 5 Apr 2012
Date Written: October 3, 2004
In 1928 the Palestine Mandate Government commenced a procedure of land title settlement, pursuant to the Land (Settlement of Title) Ordinance. The State of Israel adopted the findings of the Mandate procedure and its statutory infrastructure, and completed the process in the majority of the area of the State of Israel. The principal purpose of the title settlement procedure was to explore the chain of title for every piece of land in Palestine in order to produce a final decision concerning property titles for every such piece of land. This decision became the first entry in the Title Register, and was intended to enable its creation.
The “objective” motive for the Mandate government’s introduction of the land title settlement procedure was to facilitate the private market. The process was supposed to remove the ambiguity created by the Ottoman land laws concerning title, to make the private land market more efficient and to reduce the risk inherent in it. At the same time, the procedure was also, and perhaps mainly, motivated by a “subjective” reason — the government’s desire to locate, designate and register its own land. A precise clarification of the government’s land title was vital to fulfilling the “dual commitment” of the government under the Mandate. Between the years 1928 and 1948, the British accomplished a title settlement procedure in approximately 5,243 square kilometers, mostly located in rural areas in the coastal plain and lowland regions.
The British refrained from making title settlements in Jerusalem, which was, in all respects, a complex and dangerous target for settlement. First, the land in question was urban. Examining land title in an urban region is more difficult than exploring the title history of rural land. Titles in urban areas are splintered and crowded in a manner that makes the pace of clarification more expensive and much slower. The British usually avoided settling land title in urban regions. Second, even in Mandate times, Jerusalem was a city with an ancient history. The longer the genealogy of the land title, the more difficult and expensive it is to examine it, and there is greater scope for error. The British declined to settle old urban properties for this reason, as well. To all this, it is necessary to add the religious and international importance of Jerusalem and the concern that any compulsory government examination of land title would lead to agitation in the population, with all its political ramifications.
Upon its establishment, the State of Israel adopted the results and methods of the British Title Settlement system. The bulk of the rural areas under the settlement (about five thousand ms) was included within the boundaries of the new State. It was now time to settle the remainder of the rural and urban land that the British had not dealt with, and this included Jerusalem. The settlement procedure in Jerusalem, which was ostensibly an internal civil one, was affected, partially but inevitably, by the city’s importance in the eyes of whoever was in control at the time, and by the changes that occurred over time in its governmental and political conditions. In the first two decades after the establishment of the State, the process served as a means of demonstrating and enforcing the State’s sovereignty in the borderline areas of West Jerusalem and particularly in the neglected villages on the periphery. After the 1967 war, when East Jerusalem was annexed to the territory of the city and the State, Israeli law was required to determine a position with respect to the results of the land title settlement procedure which had been in effect in the eastern part of the city during the 19 years of Jordanian control. However, less importance was given to the settlement procedure in East Jerusalem as a tool for retrospective clarification of title to land in the newly annexed areas. Rather the drastic device of expropriation was preferred, in order, inter alia, to quickly “turn over a new leaf” in the history of the title of the expropriated land. The purpose of this article is to attempt to identify the influence of Jerusalem’s political importance on the land title settlement and expropriation procedures.
Keywords: Jerusalem, State of Israel. legal history, land title settlement, land law, land registration, international law, post 1948 war, Palestinian refugees assets, land expropriations
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