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Credit: 

British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library Facebook page

Short Take

The Sakakini House: Tracing Israel’s Bureaucracy of Collective Confiscation through One Treasured Home

Snapshot

Through the tale of one home, we trace the legal and bureaucratic mechanisms that Israel used to confiscate the land, property, and assets of the more than 73,000 Palestinians who were expelled from or fled Jerusalem in 1947–48 and never allowed to return. 

May 1934: Khalil Sakakini, a Palestinian educator, political and social figure, and prolific diarist, buys a plot of land north of Qatamon to build a family home for himself, his wife, Sultana, their three children, Sari, Hala, Dumia, and his sister, Melia.

He purchases the property using royalties he amassed from the widespread sale of his Arabic textbook, El-Jadid.

Bio Khalil Sakakini

An educator, political and social figure, and intellectual whose diary of over 3,000 pages covers 45 turbulent years in Jerusalem and Palestine in the early 20th century

Khalil and Sultana Abo Sakakini with their son, Sari, c. 1920

Khalil and Sultana Abo Sakakini with their son, Sari, c. 1920

Credit: 

From the popular television literary salon, 'Aseer al-Kutub on channel al-Arabi, via British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library Facebook page

The family of Khalil Sakakini in Jerusalem c. 1928

The Sakakini family, seated on stairs, from left Sultana (mother), their three children Hala, Sari, and Dumia, and Khalil (father) at right. Approximate date: 1928.

Credit: 

British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library Facebook page

Hala, Sari, and Dumia Sakakini, 1931

Hala, Sari, and Dumia Sakakini, 1931

Credit: 

British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library Facebook page

The Sakakini family, with Khalil's sister Melia (in black) who lived with them in the house

The Sakakini family, with Khalil's sister Melia (in black) who lived with them in the house

Credit: 

The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive (0261.01.0290)

Late 1936: Construction of the house stalled as the Great Palestinian Revolt begins.

May 1937: Construction is completed. Unlike the lavish neighboring villas, the house is a simple two-story structure. The entire property, including the yard, measures 607 sq m.

When they moved in, Sakakini wrote to his son Sari, then studying abroad in the US: “The house, the house, all we talk about is the house . . . Our house is a universe, and we are all in it, eternity is our slave.”1

According to his daughter Hala, her father named the house al-Jazira (the island), and the individual rooms Damascus, Baghdad, Sanaa, Córdoba, and Cairo.

Bio Hala Sakakini

A Palestinian educator and writer who wrote an iconic, vivid narrative recounting her family’s exile from Qatamon and Jerusalem in 1948

Sultana Sakakini stands outside her home in Katamon Jerusalem c. 1936

Sultana Sakakini standing outside the home in Qatamon in the New City of Jerusalem c. 1936. The family had finished building the home  in 1937.

Credit: 

British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library Facebook page

Sari and Hala Sakakini in the living room of their home in Katamon, Jerusalem

Sari and Hala Sakakini in the living room of their cherished house in Qatamon, Jerusalem

Credit: 

Sakakini Family Photo Collection, via British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library Facebook page, (c) Sakakini.

Khalil named the house al-Jazira (the island), and the individual rooms Damascus, Baghdad, Sanaa, Córdoba, and Cairo.

April 1948: Zionist forces invade Qatamon. After three days and 150 Arabs dead, the neighborhood falls. All surviving residents flee. The Sakakinis leave their home on April 30 and head for Cairo by car. They are one of the last families to leave the Jerusalem neighborhood.

May 1948: The new State of Israel is declared, leading to the exile of over 750,000 Palestinians. This number includes over 73,000 Palestinian Arabs from Jerusalem and nearby villages (see The West Side Story).2

June 1948: Israel passes Abandoned Property and then Abandoned Areas Ordinances which defined as “abandoned” “any area or place conquered by or surrendered to [Israeli] armed forces or deserted by all or part of its inhabitants, and which has been declared by order to be an ‘abandoned area.’ All properties in these areas are also declared ‘abandoned’ and the Government is authorised to issue instructions as to the disposition of such properties.”3

October 1948: Israel passes the Emergency Regulations Regarding the Cultivation of Fallow Lands and Unexploited Water Sources, which give the Minister of Agriculture the power to retroactively authorize the seizure and reallocation of lands that had already been seized and reallocated.4

December 1948: Israel passes a law granting the office of the Custodian of Absentee Property legal status and authority to define all Arabs displaced during the war as “absentees,” regardless of whether or not they returned. This term applied to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs, including the Sakakinis, thereby allowing the Israeli government to expropriate their properties, rendering them state property.5

1949: Israel establishes Amidar, a state-owned public housing company, funded largely by the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish National Fund, and the Israeli government. Amidar is tasked with providing subsidized and rent-controlled housing, primarily for lower-income Jewish families. To offer housing for the large number of Jews moving in, many homes in Qatamon are divided, including the Sakakinis’. Amidar managed the division of the Sakakini home and thereafter.

March 1949: The Custodian of Absentee Property rents the first floor of the Sakakini house to the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), which runs a nursery school on the first floor of the house.

April 1949: The Langer family, likely Jewish evacuees from the emptied Jewish Quarter in the Old City, rents the second floor of the Sakakini home.

Personal Story The End of Arab Qatamon—A Memoir

A vivid memoir attesting to what it was like to live through the violent transformation of the New City of Jerusalem into West Jerusalem in 1947–48

By April 1949, the home was divided and the second floor was rented to the Langer family. 

1950: Israel passes the Absentees’ Property Law in March 1950. Israel establishes the Development Authority to serve as a major actor in land allocation. “According to the Absentee Property Law of March 1950 (Clause 19) and the Development Authority (Transfer of Property) Law of July 1950, the Custodian of Absentee Property could now sell the properly under its power” to the Development Authority.”6 The goal is to turn over properties to the Development Authority in order to codify the expropriation of Arab lands as a permanent condition, whereas it had been temporary in the hands of the Custodian of Absentee Property.

1953: Israel passes the Land Acquisition (Validation of Acts and Compensation) Law in March 1953, enabling the selling of all properties under the Custodian of Absentee Property office to the Development Authority. The law applied to “immovable property that 1) was not in its owner’s possession on 1 April 1952; 2) had been used for essential development, settlement and security between 14 May 1948 and 1 April 1952; 3) was still needed for these purposes.”7 The Finance Ministry bought and nationalized about 1.2 million dunams through this law.

1953: The Custodian of Absentee Property sells the Sakakini house to the Development Authority, which officially strips Khalil Sakakini of his ownership of the house. The Development Authority becomes the new formal owner of the house, with the power to sell it to a third party.

April 1955: On the second floor of the Sakakini house, the Langer family is replaced by the Bergers.

1960: The Manoach family buys the property from the Bergers for 4,534 Israeli pounds—about 60 percent of the property’s value. Amidar, on behalf of the Development Authority, receives 2,266 Israeli pounds, just 40 percent of the property’s value.

July 1967: Hala and Dumia Sakakini, now living in Ramallah, visit what remains of their home in Qatamon. In her memoir, Hala laments that what they see “was no more home.”

1969: The Nina Cohen Atlantic Provinces Daycare Center, sponsored by Canadian-Hadassah WIZO, is established in the house. About 59 children attend in three classrooms with 19 teachers. It is still there today, at 8 Yordey Hasira St. in Katamon.

Short Take How Israel Applies the Absentees’ Property Law to Confiscate Palestinian Property in Jerusalem

Israel uses the 1950 Absentees’ Property Law and several amendments to it to confiscate Palestinian property across East Jerusalem and give it to Jewish settlers.

The Sakakini house in Katamon, divided into two flats, with WIZO visible on the right

The Sakakini house in Qatamon, divided into two flats, with WIZO visible on the right

1997: Amidar offers WIZO and the Manoach family full ownership of their respective flats, which both accept.

May 2006: The Sakakini house is registered in the Israeli land registry bureau as a communal apartment building, erasing its original status as a single-family home.

Contributors

Researcher and Writer: Nadim Bawalsa, Jerusalem Story
Editor: Kate Rouhana, Jerusalem Story

Notes

1

Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2001), 271–74.

2

Salim Tamari, “The City and Its Rural Hinterland,” in Jerusalem 1948: The Arab Neighbourhoods and Their Fate in the War, ed. Salim Tamari (Jerusalem and Bethlehem: Institute of Palestine Studies and BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, 2002), 79.

3

Center on Housing Rights and Evictions and BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Ruling Palestine: A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine (published by the authors, 2005), 40.

4

Danna Piroyansky, “From Island to Archipelago: The Sakakini House in Qatamon and Its Shifting Ownerships throughout the Twentieth Century,” Middle Eastern Studies 48, no. 6 (2012): 862.

5

Piroyansky, “From Island,” 863.

6

Piroyansky, “From Island,” 865.

7

Piroyansky, “From Island,” 865.

8

Piroyansky, “From Island,” 865.

9

Piroyansky, “From Island,” 865.

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