Photo Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90
A mixed neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem (note the competing neon signs) , Dec. 30, 2018.

The stubborn struggle of the right-wing organizations against the Mukhtar Procedure (Lit. “crowned local official’s procedure”) finally bore fruit last week, as the Jerusalem municipality’s planning and building committee for the first time rejected dozens of building plans in eastern Jerusalem based on this procedure, Regavim reported Sunday.

A remnant of the pre-1948 British Mandate, in cases where there is not valid documentation of land ownership, the Mukhtar Procedure recognizes an affidavit submitted by a local Arab village leader (the mukhtar) on behalf of a local resident, verifying of the latter’s ownership ahead of a starting a construction project on the land in question.

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In practice, the procedure resulted in the distribution of land to almost any local Arab resident who asked for such an affidavit, leading to a growth industry of fraudulent permits involving huge sums of money – seeing as eastern Jerusalem is full of areas that lack legal land registration and there is no reasonable chance of penalty against a local “mukhtar” who issues false affidavits.

Towards the end of his term, Mayor Nir Barkat—currently on the Likud Knesset slate—decided to “refresh” the list of trusted mukhtarim, which raised the concern of several Zionist NGOs, including Regavim and B’Tzalmo, which identified the vast majority of individuals on the new list as known perpetrators of illegal construction in Jerusalem, many of whom sit on huge debts to the city.

Activists from Regavim, B’Tzalmo and B’Tzedek met with Jerusalem municipality officials, including the former mayor and Council Member Aryeh King, and later with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

The move continued with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Interior Committee Chairman MK Yoav Kish.

“The rejection of the plans, which were based on the fraudulent mukhtar procedure was a necessary and appropriate step,” Regavim CEO Meir Deutsch said in a statement. “The Israeli government, led by Minister Shaked, decided to promote a lands settlement in eastern Jerusalem, which will put an end to the theft of private land belonging to Jews and Arabs in eastern Jerusalem, and prevent the takeover of state land.”

“We look forward to a significant progress in implementing the government’s decision, which will usher in the strengthening of the sovereignty of the State of Israel in all of Jerusalem,” Deutch said.

Attorney Eldad Rabinowitz of the B’Tzedek NGO said in a statement: “The cancellation of the procedure creates de facto sovereignty, and allows the state and the municipality to determine future planning according to true ownership, and not allow continued land theft.”

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