The Fawlty Tower hotel saga

OK, summer is over and focus back on Israel, this time for having had the audacity to expropriate a hotel which was situated exactly in the middle of security  trail between Jerusalem and the West Bank. The hotel was expropriated in 2004 – after several years of horrendous suicide attacks in Israel proper, to make rom for the security fence. The owners of the Cliff Hotel, contested the expropriation and in a complex web of events, the State of Israel applied the Absentee law in order to be able to expropriate the LAND the hotel was situated on. This Haaretz link provides a very accurate account of the background of the conflict. This Haaretz link also gives some insight into the legal complexities of the case. For the uninitiated, Israeli Law is full of apparent contradictions, until you take in the full significance of still having to apply not only Ottoman Law but also British Mandate Law, in addition to various Israeli Laws, including military Law.

Undeniably, the owners of the building called Cliff Hotel – the Ayad family – have been put in a very unhappy situation, and I am glad that they have the knowledge, resources and courage to continue to appeal to the High Court, for the fate of their building.

It is also important to underline that in Israel, all LAND belongs by definition to the State, and plots of land are are in reality not sold, what you purchase is the right to use the land for 99 years, after which time it returns to the State. A new license to (continued) use the land is then re-issued. The properties on that land is of course private property. Add to that, the immense complexity of the Oslo accords, where the B area is under joint Israeli-Palestinian control.

The unhappy situation of the Ayad family apart, the core in this matter remains a fundamental aspect of security: The State Of Israel’s fundamental duty to protect their citizens from terror attacks, military attacks, enemy infiltration and to that end, the State is entitled to expropriate property that stands, literally, in the way of said security needs.

HOWEVER.

Israel is hardly the only country in the world to effectuate land expropriations? Lets take Norway as an example, where one cannot claim that similar security needs exist, but where routinely, private houses are expropriated because the municipality in question desires to use the land the house is built on for other purposes, for instance industrial development. To illustrate this I have uploaded a screenshot of the case documents of an ongoing land dispute in a randomly selected municipality:

Frøya Municipality expropriation decision of February 23, 2012

As the case notes reveal there are no security needs behind this expropriation decision, it is merely a very small municipality’s desire to provide potential investors with land where they can develop local industry.

In other words, a most mundane action, which does not even cause a millimeter of enraged editorial ink to be spilled. Far less the involvement  of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represented by the FM to claim that such decisions are outrageous and an affront to international Law and human rights…. Errrr, correction, the State will as a rule get involved, but on the side of the Municipality in question, and fight tooth and nail to deprive Norwegian house owners of their right to live in their homes. When the State wins (as it invariably does, who can think that a lowly Norwegian house owner can match the enormous funds the State has at its disposal?), the house owner in question is given a pittance in compensation, usually not enough to cover the costs of having to purchase a new property, thereby adding an enormous financial burden to the unhappy house owners already heavy baggage.

The NRK has of course made a gigantic festive meal over this property conflict, the opportunity being served through the publication of a book, inviting high and low in Norway to slaughter Israel on prime time online television. Former Middle East correspondent and now Pal activist Sidsel Wold is given free reins to gargle nonsense (excerpts lifted from Miff.no):

“The Israeli’s are stealing land from the Palestinians, dressed up as Law. This is a Kafkaesque world”

News anchor Anne Grosvold also stays on the narrow path of balanced journalism:

But what Israel is doing is clearly unreasonable! Is nobody protesting?

To which our friend Wold replies:

It is no good protesting, Israeli authorities do not listen to people

At the end of the sequence, newsanchor Grosvold leaves Wold gobsmacked with the following question:

But, one might understand the Israeli settlement expansion from a religious perspective?

At this stage I politely refer you back to the article by Haaretz, which sums up the sequence of events and facts in a very orderly fashion. And nobody can claim Haaretz is an uncritical observer…. The readers can then freely make up their minds about Norwegian journalists’ level of professional standards when it comes to adequately researching the topics they choose to present. Some might be tempted to say this looks a bit like ham-fisted propaganda….

And regarding our FM who took the opportunity to get up on his soap box:

– This case deals with a Norwegian citizen, but is also a gross infraction of international standards and human rights, says Støre.

He then promises to continue to raise the matter with Israel.

I hope he also decides to fight for other Norwegian citizens who are in much more delicate situations than the Ayads (who undoubtedly have been landed in a very unhappy situation). For instance, the FM could decide to engage the MFA in the unsolved murder case of the Norwegian Student Martine Vik Magnussen, who was brutally slaughtered by a Yemenite billionaire son in London, who swiftly after his dirty deed, ran back to Yemen where he is greatly enjoying life. The Norwegian MFA has been widely criticized for its reluctance to help the family bring the murderer to justice, with the FM pathetically stating: I understand the family’s sense of despair.

He, the FM, might also want to be more helpful in the case of two Norwegians who have been sentenced to death in Congo for allegedly murdering their driver . The mothers of the two men have accused the MFA to be unhelpful and slow in their struggle to bring them back to Norway.

And finally (in a very long list of Norwegians who might have appreciated the timely intervention on their behalf from the MFA) there is the bizarre case of the Norwegian driver who on vacation with his mother accidentally entered a one way street in the Arizona town of Winslow and was promptly accused of aggravated assault with a lethal weapon (his car down a one way street, in the opposite direction..). He was sentenced to 7.5 years in jail and the Norwegian MFA’s reaction after the verdict was known was that there is little one can do, he had been tried and convicted in a lawful court:

In a statement to the press after the verdict, the junior minister Frode O. Andersen said:

I do understand that being charged in a criminal case in a foreign country is a very difficult experience. But in the same manner that an embassy in Oslo cannot engage in a criminal trial in a Norwegian Court of Law, are we not attempting to influence a foreign court.

Dagbladet has published a review of the book – The Cliff Hotel – which is quite remarkable for its stupidity:

Absentee?

The Ayads have been sent from one office to another. They have not been given the documents they have requested and they have faced attempts to be pressured to relinquish their rights in order to receive compensation. One crucial element is whether any of the owners have been absentees in such a manner that makes the expropriation lawful. Strange laws.

The fundamental paradox in the country’s situation is that Israel wants to be a democratic state to be able to justify their actions on the basis of universal rights and good principles. Thus, the courts find clever ways to change the laws and regulations of that state’s politics after all, can be implemented.

It would be good if the literature critic (who seems singularly unqualified for having any particular opinion on Law – and frankly, considering his grand conclusion, one doubts his knowledge in literature), could provide a detailed list of Laws that have been changed in relation to the property conflict, which he insists is an “excellent micro-history to understand the Palestine conflict”.

His conclusion is, if possible, even more weird:

Yngvil Mortensen has done an impressive job of finding clarity in this story. She presents her work clearly, but the publisher could probably have worked harder with the text – it has too many sentences that could have been considerably clearer with simple modifications. That the author has not been able to present her arguments clearly on her own, she should not be blamed for.

(it might be interpreted as a way of saying that the work is incoherent…)

Let us hope that the same amount of indignation can be mustered for the inhabitants at the tiny island of Frøya, who now will be expelled from their homes to make room for an industrial development. It will be very interesting to follow this case to see what arguments the State is prepared to use in order to wrestle private property out of the hands of the rightful owners.