In 1951 Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (KKL) acquired leases for a period of 99 years for swaths of undeveloped land in Jerusalem from a number of churches who had purchased the land probably during the period of the Turkish Empire’s occupation of Eretz Yisrael prior to the termination of World War 1.
It is not clear if the churches proved their legal title to the land in question to the KKL during these negotiations or not. What is known is that during the period of the British Mandate the authorities instituted and produced a Land Registry of all the land under their authority, but it is not clear what proof the land owners presented to the Registry and if the proof was verified.
At the termination of the Mandate three complete sets of the Land Registry were made, one was sent back to the UK (part of the consignment was lost), one given to Israel and the other to Jordan.
The KKL subsequently sub-leased the land to Israeli property developers who during the course of the next 50 years built apartment blocks on the land and the respective sub-lease was then granted by the KKL to the individual purchasers of the individual apartments for an initial period of 50 years. The owners of the apartments were subsequently entitled to renew, at a cost, the sub-lease from the KKL for an additional 50 years as registered by the Israel Lands Authority.
It was common knowledge that on the expiry of the sub-leases in or around 2050 there would be no problem in extending these as the original head leases purchased by the KKL from the churches had a clause that the KKL would have the first option granted to them to renew the head lease from the churches which it would negotiate and agree upon.
This was the basis for the sale of many of the apartments during the last 25 years being acquired. It was on the premise that the KKL, being a quasi-government organization, would carry out the option in an ethical fashion on behalf of the owners and in the best interests of the citizens of State of Israel and the Jewish People.
In the last decade it was reported that the KKL had negotiated with one or more of the ecclesiastical bodies to either purchase the freehold or extend the leases. However, whilst an agreement was made it was subsequently dismissed by the Supreme Court on the grounds claimed by the ecclesiastical authorities that their respective signatory had been forged, even though the KKL had transferred funds to the church.
The latter funds appear not to have been recovered by the KKL and still remain within the church jurisdiction. Either prior to or subsequently it appears that the KKL did not pay the respective ecclesiastical authorities the ground rent for a period of 10 years.
Subsequent to this court case the KKL did not appear to negotiate with the respective church land owners to exert their right to the first option to renew the head lease. As a result the churches negotiated with individual groups of investors who have either purchased the head lease of some of the properties or the freehold of the land. These investors are only known to the KKL, Israel Lands Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality.
It is normal courtesy and common practice worldwide that when a head lease changes hands the sub lessees are informed by both the original lessor (i.e. KKL) and the new lessor. However, in this case the sub lessees from the KKL have not been informed by either party, the Israel Lands Authority, the Jerusalem Municipality or indeed the Government of the State of Israel. More than 2000 plus apartments are involved yet the owners (the lessees) have no idea if their apartments are included within the parcels negotiated and purchased or leased by the investors from the ecclesiastical authorities.
As a result the respective property values are decreasing on a daily basis and the apartment owners do not know their legal status or if their apartments are included within the tranche the investors acquired. This is a blight on the State of Israel, the KKL, Israel Lands Authority and the Israeli Government where all respective institutions have failed the citizens of Israel. Citizens’ rights have been trampled on as if they were of no importance and the law has been flouted.
Under the circumstances it is necessary for the State Comptroller and Ombudsman to undertake an immediate investigation of this matter in order to clarify to those sub-lessees of property in Jerusalem their legal status, why the respective institutions failed to advise the sub-lessees what was occurring and how their rights were trampled upon haphazardly and why the KKL has not disclosed to the public the complete contents of all the head leases it acquired in the 1950’s and identified in detail all the land parcels.
The Government in February 2018 set up a commission under Regional Co-operation Minister MK Hanegbi to resolve the issue of the refusal of the churches in Jerusalem to pay their municipal taxes on property they own which are not used for religious purposes, but where the churches pay municipal taxes in other cities and towns on similar properties.
Appended to the task of the commission, almost as a minor issue, was to attempt to resolve the issues which had been identified requiring investigation. Like all holders of such a sub-lease, in the last four months neither any sub lessees nor any organization representing the interests of the sub lessees have been invited to present individual or collective views to the commission, informed as to the progress or otherwise of the commission’s deliberations as it concerns the sub lessees or even given a general indication of what is going on – being left completely in limbo and being ignored- Why?