Not content with reporting the news, the BBC is making it: its Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has waded in to support Ali Ayyad’s campaign to reclaim ownership of the Cliff Hotel in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis, now in the custodianship of the Israel Absentee Property Law. BBC Watch argues convincingly that Knell makes no attempt at balance or context: she has failed to point out that Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis were taken over by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property.
Knell devotes a considerable portion of
her written article to the subject of the Israeli Absentee Property Law.
Significantly – especially in this case – she makes no effort to inform
readers of the fact that during the 19 year Jordanian occupation of
Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem (the later annexation of which was
not recognized by the international community), there existed a body
called the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property which was established to handle property seized from Jews during the War of Independence.
war of independence, the mandatory Jordanian legions conquered the area
of Judea and Samaria, and in 1950 annexed the area. In the aftermath of
the Jordanian occupation of the area, the appointed Jordanian governor
published proclamation 55, declaring all residents of Israel as
“enemies” of the state. This declaration enabled the application of
the Trading with the Enemy Act, 1939, to the property of Israelis in the
the act, a Jordanian custodian was appointed to manage enemy property
including all the “Jewish Lands”. In turn the authorities of the
Jordanian Kingdom used the lands for various purposes, including leasing
and renting the land to the citizens.”
After the Six Day War and the subsequent
end of the Jordanian occupation, property previously administered by
the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property was transferred to the
administration of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, but the
fact that the Jordanian authorities had frequently leased or sold
Jewish-owned land to Jordanian citizens further complicated the legal
In Abu Dis – as is acknowledged even by Palestinian organisations – some 598 dunams of land are actually Jewish-owned.
During the years 1920-30 the ‘Agudat
HaDayarim’ Jewish Cooperative Society was established in Jerusalem in
order to establish Jewish neighborhoods outside of the Old City for its
members. The Society had over 210 members, from all walks of life and
ethnic backgrounds including Persians, Iraqis and Yemenites. In 1928
the Aguda purchased 598 dunams of land in the area known today as Abu
Dis – due to its proximity to the city centre – in order to build a
‘Garden Community’ (homes with agricultural plots). Although it acquired
a legal title to the area, the Arab revolts of 1929 and 1936-9
prevented the Aguda from establishing the new community.
The War of Independence resulted in the
Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis coming under the control of the Jordanian
Custodian of Enemy Property. After the Six Day War and the subsequent
reunification of Jerusalem, most of the Jewish-owned land in Abu Dis
(some 540 dunams) remained outside of the city’s municipal boundaries
and part of modern Abu Dis is built upon that land. Some 60 dunams of
the land originally owned by ‘Agudat HaDayarim’ in Abu Dis does fall
within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries.
Of course the BBC (strangely, for an
organisation committed to accuracy) does not make a practice of
informing its audiences about the subject of Jewish-owned lands in what
it terms “the West Bank”, but the Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis
certainly should have been part of Yolande Knell’s research before she
elected to co-opt the BBC to Ali Ayyad’s prolific media campaign.