By Yumna Patel
New evidence reveals that US plans to build an embassy in Jerusalem would place the diplomatic compound on privately-owned Palestinian land that was confiscated from its owners by Israel, following the Nakba and the establishment of the state in 1948.
The owners of the land, which include US citizens and Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem, are now demanding that the Biden Administration and the Israeli government move to cancel the plan.
In February of last year the US government coordinated with the Israeli government to draft plans for a large diplomatic complex in Jerusalem that would eventually house the US embassy. The plans to build the embassy at the site date back to the 1990s, when the same Palestinian residents in question asked the US government to cancel the plans.
In a statement on Sunday, two days before US President Joe Biden’s arrival in Israel, legal rights group Adalah said that documents from Israeli state archives prove that the land was owned by Palestinian families, and leased temporarily to British Mandate authorities before 1948.
Like much of the land that became state land after the establishment of the state, the land in question was confiscated from its Palestinian owners after they were made refugees in 1948 during the Nakba.
Under the 1950 absentee property law, Israel seized large swaths of privately owned Palestinian land on the grounds that their owners, who were made refugees by Israel and prevented from returning to their homes, were “absentees.”
The Absentee Property Law has been criticized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch “as a major tool of Israel’s oppression and domination of Palestinians within a broader Apartheid system.”
According to Adalah, archival lease agreements prove the Palestinian landowners include individuals from the Habib, Qleibo, El Khalidi, Razzaq, and El-Khalili families, among others.
Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi, one of the descendants of the owners of the land, said in a statement: “The fact that the US government is now participating actively with the Israeli government in this project means that it is actively infringing on the property rights of the legitimate owners of these properties, including many US citizens.”
“If built, the US embassy compound will be located on land that was seized from Palestinians in violation of international law,” Adalah said in its statement, adding that using the Absentees’ Property Law to confiscate land in Jerusalem also violates the city’s special status under international law.
“Given these flagrant violations, in Adalah’s view, the US and Israel must cancel this plan immediately to avoid building a diplomatic complex on this land, belonging to the descendants of the original Palestinian owners, who are both East Jerusalem residents and US citizens,” Adalah said.