Mukhtar Protocol cancelled: Arabs in Jerusalem must now prove they own property, just like everyone else
The Mukhtar Protocoך, a corrupt land management system, was canceled over the weekend, now putting Arabs on equal footing with Jewish residents of Jerusalem.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, no surveys or registrations of land ownership were carried out in Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem. Instead, local Mukhtars (the head of local government) were given the sole authority to grant building permits and decide who the ‘legal owners were. Unlike other areas in Israel, legal records, deeds, or other documentation with legal standing and verifiability were not required.
This led to widespread corruption, including wholesale land giveaways and illegal land deals, forgery of documents and deeds, bribes, and false testimony. To make matters worse, officially designated by the government, these mukhtars were paid a hefty fee for their “expert” testimony.
“The Mukhtar Protocol was one of the most corrupt, discriminatory procedures enforced by the State of Israel,” the Regavim organization said in a statement. “This has been devastating for the rightful property owners, Arabs and Jews alike. In far too many cases, they testified that properties were owned by residents of their village – when the very same land parcels were legally registered in Israel’s Land Registry as property of individual Jewish or Arab owners. Documents presented by these mukhtars to substantiate their expert testimony’ were proven to be forgeries.”
Naomi Kahn, director of Regavim’s international division, explained the reason behind such a corrupt system:
“The answer is as pathetic as it is predictable,” she said in a statement. “The State of Israel preferred to self-impose restrictions on its sovereignty in Jerusalem, hoping that undercutting its sovereignty would appease its critics. But by failing to assert and enforce Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem clearly, the government handed those seeking to deny Israeli sovereignty the perfect opportunity to do so.”
Four years ago, the Ministry of Justice attempted to revise and update the list of recognized mukhtars. In response, a coalition of Israeli organizations led by Regavim was formed to fight the municipal and national bodies seeking to perpetuate this problematic procedure. Regavim led a series of meetings with the professionals in the Jerusalem Municipality responsible for land-use issues. The meetings were attended by Jerusalem-focused Zionist organizations, including Elad, Ateret Cohanim, HaTzedek, Keep Jerusalem, and others. Notable champions of this campaign were MK Orit Strock, Deputy Mayor Aryeh King, and Jerusalem Assemblyman Yoni Yosef, who joined us in actively fighting for the cancellation of the protocol.
“We also spearheaded a public awareness and protest campaign against this dangerous and harmful procedure that has resulted in the illegal transfer of land to Arabs with specious claims,” Regavim said. “While it is certainly true that the village dignitaries have access to family histories and documents that others do not, their “expert testimony” should be considered only one element in determining land ownership. Until the registration process is completed, the mukhtars of Jerusalem should be permitted to continue contributing to the process of clarifying land ownership – despite their dismal record of corruption. They should not, however, be permitted to replace the legal mechanisms created and enforced by the sovereign government of the State of Israel.”
Yehudah Poah, Director of Betzalmo: “We welcome this decision. East Jerusalem is no different than anywhere else in the State of Israel. Our sovereignty and the rule of law there should be 100%.”
Attorney Boaz Arzi, Director of Regavim’s Legal Division, added: “The State of Israel should have conducted full regulation procedures for all properties in Jerusalem immediately upon the city’s reunification, and the foot-dragging has resulted in the loss of thousands of dunams of land to fraudulent claims and the erosion of governance. We congratulate the Ministry of Justice for its efforts to end this ongoing failure and cancel the dubious procedure. We hope the land regulation and registration process will be completed quickly and resolutely.”
Keep Jerusalem welcomed the decision: “Today, a significant step was made for the protection of the unity of Jerusalem and for Israeli sovereignty over its capital. We congratulate all those who worked for this change, particularly the nationalist organizations, Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Mayor Moshe Lion.
Attorney Eldad Rabinowitz of “BeTzedek”: “We congratulate the Ministry of Justice for its decision to cancel the Mukhtar Protocol, which was an illegal procedure that resulted in large-scale land theft and undermined Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem. We expect the Jerusalem Municipality to uphold and enforce this decision and stop granting construction permits based on the protocol that has now been discarded.
Israel in the News