A new Tunisian law permitting the state to expropriate property ‘for the public good’ is expected to impact on absent Jewish owners and their heirs.
A French property lawyer based in Sousse contends that the law was ‘sneaked’ through parliament at the height of summer in order to attract minimum attention. It is usual for a French version of the text to appear alongside the Arabic, but on this occasion, Pierre-Olivier Aribaud writes in his Times of Israel blog, the law, passed on 11 July 2016, was published only in Arabic.
Aribaud argues that such a law would be justified where a crumbling property presented a physical risk. If the expropriated property were to be re-sold to a developer – that would be a different matter.
The law stipulates that the owner be notified at the address of the property concerned. In 80 percent of cases, the owner has not lived at the address for years, and is likely to have been born between 1910 and 1930. He is either dead or very old. The chances of his heirs receiving notice of the expropriation are minimal. If they now live in France, they cannot rely on the French authorities for support. Aribaud urges Jews to exert pressure for change on the French government and parliament.
Unlike Iraq, Egypt and Libya, Tunisia did not nationalise Jewish property. But abandoned homes have often been taken over by squatters or fallen into the hands of greedy developers abetted by crooked lawyers who falsify deeds. There is often no way to recover property and assets except by going to law – a tortuous and seemingly interminable process.
Aribaud has represented hundreds of clients: some are Italians and Maltese who left their property when they departed Tunisia. But his regular blogs in the Times of Israel suggest that Tunisian Jews form an important slice of his clientele.