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After 17 Years: Jewish Property Returned to Owner

Thanks to the perseverance of feisty Yitzchak Herskovitz, 79, a plot of Jerusalem land has been regained for the Jewish People.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 4/26/2010, 7:15 PM / Last Update: 4/26/2010, 7:24 PM

Israel news photo

Thanks to the perseverance of feisty Yitzchak Herskovitz, 79, a plot of Jerusalem land has been regained for the Jewish People.

The plot is located in Givat HaMatos, just south of the Arab neighborhood of Beit Tsafafa and off the main Hevron Blvd. thoroughfare. Due to the presence of illegal Arab squatters there, and despite three different court decisions in his favor, Herskovitz has never able to enjoy it; he was able to enter his purchased property exactly one time in the 17 years he has owned it - until today.

Even when the Supreme Court issued its final ruling in Herskovitz’s favor this past December, it gave the squatters four months to vacate. Finally, on Monday, April 26, five days after the final deadline for evacuation, a group led by Herskovitz and Jerusalem land-rights activist Aryeh King entered the property, braving the threatening Arab squatters who still remain nearby.

“Thank G-d that I lived to see this day,” Herskovitz said when he arrived, and then recited the Hebrew "Shecheyanu" blessing for particularly special occasions.

Adding to his joy was his find of a deep fresh-water pit on the property, which he hopes to be able to turn into a mikvah (a ritual bath).

Last week, when police were finally ready to enforce the court orders and perform the eviction, Herskovitz was abruptly informed that the Arabs who had fought him in court for 17 years had left the premises on their own. “There is no need for a police eviction,” the squatters’ lawyer informed him.

Herskovitz, an immigrant from the United States, was excited at the prospect of finally being able to move into his own piece of the Land of Israel – but it was not to be. When he arrived, he found that though the Arabs had left the house, they remained nearby, together with a large crowd to stand threateningly outside it, preventing him from approaching.

Though the police were informed, their help was not forthcoming. Once again, it was not clear how the stand-off would end and when Herskovitz would ever get to enjoy his property.

Attorney Doron Nir-Tzvi and Aryeh King then entered the picture.

“Nir-Tzvi called me around 1:45 PM today,” King told Israel National News, “and told me that there was no one there, and what were we waiting for?” The two agreed, together with Herskovitz, that there was no need to wait for the police, and that they should just go in on their own. “I told him I would be there at 2:30 with some guys,” King said, “and within an hour, we were inside! Yes, the Arabs were there, yelling and cursing, but we just walked right past them, and that was that.”

Several young people plan to remain there for the night, and the plan is to bolster their presence with families in the near future. However, the immediate problem is the lack of water and electricity because the Arabs cut the wires and destroyed the pipes before they left.

Case Began in 1993
The saga began in 1993, when Herskovitz, a winemaker in his spare time, filed suit in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court against an Arab clan, the Tsalah family, for illegally living on his land in southern Jerusalem. After more than a decade, the Arab “evidence” was found to have been forged and Herskovitz won the case. The squatters appealed the ruling and lost again, and they were to have been evicted.

But the Arabs then turned around and sued Herskovitz, claiming ownership of the property for themselves. After 18 months, they abruptly withdrew their case; Herskovitz says this was purely a “stalling maneuver.”

Several weeks later, before the police had a chance to carry out the eviction orders, the third trial in the series began, with the Arabs once again filing an ownership suit in the District Court. Though that trial, too, ended in victory for Herskovitz, the story did not end there: The Arabs continued to stall by appealing once again, in the Supreme Court. This past December, Herskovitz was vindicated for the final time.

The final Supreme Court ruling was rushed, partly because of a special request by Herskovitz. “At the ripe young age of 78,” he wrote, “and not in the best of health, and after 16 years of legal shenanigans by those who stole my property, I deserve to have the ruling hurried up… The Salah clan withdrew their original court suit only in order to re-file it again later, for the purpose of dragging out the process for many years. This was carried out in bad faith and with bad intentions, and expresses their lack of respect to the judicial process. They knowingly and frequently perjured themselves, out of scorn to the court and to my rights, and sensing that they are immune to punishment.”

Police Delay
“One of the things that bothers me,” the colorful Herskovitz told Israel National News, “is that the police, by stalling and not carrying out the eviction orders at various opportunities, enabled this whole thing to be dragged out for so long. For instance, in 2008, they could have evicted the Arab squatters, in accordance with court order, but instead they asked for an extension of a few months!”

Another issue that greatly concerns Herskovitz is "the long-time illegal presence of the squatters in Israel. It is a scandal that this has been overlooked for so long!" The Ministry of Interior is now investigating his case, and Herskovitz is optimistic that action will be taken.

Herskovitz’s problems are still not over, not by a long shot. The squatters owe him money for past rent, he must re-connect the utilities, and he has to obtain permission to build on the property. In addition, he is waiting for the Israel Lands Authority to fulfill its promise to destroy some of the illegal structures built there by the Arabs over the years.

“But I take one thing at a time,” Herskovitz said. “I’ve made it this far, and we’ll take it from here.” He now plans to hold a Lag BaOmer barbecue at the property this Sunday for friends and family.