Adalah, CCR Demand Cessation of Plans to Build New U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem
November 29 2022

Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CRC) in New York have called on the U.S. State Department to meet with them to discuss the moral and legal implications of the Biden administration constructing an embassy on stolen land in Jerusalem. The legal groups are representing several Palestinian hiers to the land on which the new embassy compound is to be built, many who are also U.S. citizens.  They demand that the American government cease violating both international and domestic law by contributing to further Israeli land theft. 

The families’ concerns are expressed in a joint letter by Adalah and the CRC. It is addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides. The letter includes copies of Palestinian deeds to the parcels of land in question. 

Recently disclosed documents in the Israeli national archives confirm what has long been known to Palestinians: the land for the proposed U.S. embassy site in Jerusalem is Palestinian land, unlawfully expropriated by the apartheid regime under its 1950 Absentees’ Property Law. Many of the heirs to this land are U.S. citizens, whose forebears had leased the land to the British authority under the Mandate. 

Palestinian scholar and co-founder of the Institute for Palestine Studies Walid Khalidi previously documented the ownership of the land in a 2000 monograph co-published by the Institute and the American Committee on Jerusalem. Relying on documents from the U.S. State Department, the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, the U.K.’s Public Records Office, and the Israeli Land Registry and Municipality — as well as documentation obtained by the heirs of the original owners — Khalidi reported that the evidence “conclusively proves that the plot of land leased by Israel to the United States in 1989 as the future site of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is confiscated Palestinian refugee property.” 

Until the Trump administration, the issue had been laid to rest for some time, as one American president after another availed themselves of the option to delay the decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which had been mandated in a 1995 law passed by the U.S. Congress. The law  included as many postponements as the executive branch wished. 

Former President Donald Trump’s decision to upend U.S. diplomatic tradition and move the embassy to Jerusalem — in effect, by swapping door signs at the U.S. consulate in the Holy City — escalated the assault on Palestinian rights in Jerusalem. The Biden Administration’s decision to uphold Trump’s embassy move and construct an embassy on stolen Palestinian land has renewed concern in Palestine, across the world, and among the rightful owners of the property that Israeli-American expansionism will continue unchecked. 

In their letter, Suhad Bishara of Adalah and Diala Shamas of the CRC remind Blinken and Nides that the U.S. refusal to recognize Israeli rule over Jerusalem preceded UN Resolution 242, passed after the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel’s initial violation occurred in 1948, when it broke UN Resolution 181 (1947), which had demarcated Jerusalem as a “corpus separatum” to be overseen by the UN. By invading Jerusalem and occupying its western half, and subsequently declaring the truncated city to be the capital of the apartheid state, the Israeli regime has violated international law. 

In an appendix, the authors present a U.S. State Department press release from 1953, in which then-U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles characterized Israel's decision to relocate its foreign ministry from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as an act that “would embarrass the United Nations”by usurping the UN’s role in “determining the future status of Jerusalem.” Although the future status of East Jerusalem dominates "peace talks," the fact remains that all of Jerusalem is illegally occupied by Israeli forces and settlers. 

The Israeli occupation of Jerusalem resulted in the expulsion of Palestinian residents and the illegal confiscation of their property –what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe. 

Under the Hague Convention (1907), private property cannot be confiscated. But, after 1948, Israelis went forward with the wholesale seizure of property from Palestinian refugees, while alsodisplacing Palestinians who remained within the borders of their country.

As Human Rights Watch has noted in its report on Israeli apartheid: “Authorities declared land belonging to displaced Palestinians as ‘absentee property’ or ‘closed military zones,’ then took it over, converted it to state land, and built Jewish communities there. Authorities continue to block Palestinian citizen landowners from accessing land that was confiscated from them.”

Moreover, the authors note, an embassy move would violate the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), which both the American and Israeli governments have ratified. Under the convention, diplomatic missions can only be built on the express territorial sovereignty of a nation. Under international law, Jerusalem is under occupation and is not officially part of the Israeli colonial project. 

Lastly – and perhaps more pertinent in terms of seeking a legal injunction to block the embassy move – the authors note that the U.S. Constitution protects the overseas private property rights of Americans. 

“If it proceeds with this plan,” the authors explain, “the U.S. State Department is participating in the violation of the private property rights of its own citizens.” They conclude with a plea to “immediately cancel this plan and demand Israeli authorities withdraw their plan for the U.S. diplomatic compound on this land.”

The Palestinian ownership of the land is not in doubt. Like all of the land under Israeli occupation it was originally Palestinian and seized through a multitude of policies that unlawfully confiscated property and distributed it to settlers.  Once again, however, the American government – the guarantor of the Occupation – is complicit in continuing a legacy of theft, erasure, and ethnic cleansing.

About The Author: 

Khelil Bouarrouj is a former content editor at the Institute for Palestine Studies. Prior to his experience at IPS, he lived and taught English in Nablus in the Occupied West Bank. He frequently writes about Palestinian affairs, queer issues, and gastronomy.

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