Rights groups have condemned the decision of the Israeli Justice Ministry to begin the process of registering the ownership of land adjacent to Al Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.
The justice ministry last week initiated the “settlement of land title procedure” in Abu Thor area as well as the Umayyad Palaces site adjacent to the southern wall of Al Aqsa Mosque.
The process is using a government fund allocated to “reduce socio-economic gaps” and “create a better future” for Palestinians in the city.
However, according to a joint statement on Monday by Israeli rights groups Ir Amim and Bimkom, the fund has been largely used to register land for illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and will ultimately lead to further Palestinian dispossession, resulting in “severe far-reaching implications”.
“[The procedure] carries possible disastrous ramifications for hundreds of Palestinian homes in Abu Thor, while the other has an acute potential for escalating tensions due to its highly sensitive location in close proximity to Al Aqsa,” the joint statement read.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the first step in the registration process is the issuance of a public notice to anyone claiming ownership in the area where registration is being carried out, requiring that claimants provide proof of ownership.
But most Jerusalem Palestinians have refused to co-operate out of fear that their property will be claimed by Israel’s Custodian for Absentee Property. Almost 90 percent of land in occupied East Jerusalem is unregistered since Israeli authorities halted registration following its occupation of the city in 1967.
'Tool to seize more land'
Following a 2018 cabinet decision, the Israeli government began the promotion of the “settlement of land title procedure” in the occupied East Jerusalem.
However, Ir Amim said in 2020 that the procedure was being used as a tool to “seize more land in East Jerusalem, leading to the expansion of Israeli settlements and further Palestinian dispossession”.
Sheikh Najeh Bakirat, the deputy director of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, said on Monday that changing the ownership of Umayyad Palaces is invalid and breaches the Geneva Convention.
Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, violates several principles under international law, which stipulates that an occupying power has no sovereignty in the territory it occupies and cannot make any permanent changes there.
The area south of Al Aqsa Mosque is particularly sensitive due to continued Israeli government and settlement activity in the area that could replace Palestinian residents with biblical-themed tourist parks.
The area is also the location of government archaeological excavation work that Palestinians say threatens the foundation of Al Aqsa Mosque - Islam's third holiest site.