The Ayyad family in occupied Jerusalem managed on Tuesday to enter its “Cliff Hotel”, in Abu Dis town, southeast of occupied Jerusalem, for the first time in 13 years. The Israeli military had occupied the building since 2003, after taking possession of it under the so-called ‘Absentee Property Law.’Bassam Bahar, head of the Land Defense Committee in occupied Jerusalem, said the Ayyad family, the rightful owners of the hotel, managed to enter the building on Wednesday, following a lengthy legal battle with the Israeli authorities, after the building and nearby area, were illegally annexed by Israel.
Bahar said that the Ayyad family owns the entire property, but had to battle Israel for thirteen years over the Israeli decision to annex it.
He stated that family members Ali and Khaled Ayyad, along with a delegation of the Norwegian embassy, managed to enter the building and saw the excessive damage caused by the Israeli army and police.
‘We finally managed to enter the building after Israel confiscated it, citing security considerations, in 2003, in order to take it over,’ Ali said, ‘We immediately filed an appeal against the decision, and remained persistent for 13 years, fighting Israel’s illegal decision that considered us ‘absent’.’
Bahar said that the family’s Israeli lawyer Yotam Hillel is currently working on getting the court to order the complete surrender of the property to the family. Some of the family members live abroad and are considered ‘absent’ under the absentee property law (which applies to non-Jewish owners of property in Israel and Jerusalem).
The owners are challenging the Israeli law, saying that they have a right to remain owners of their property regardless of their place of residence. Most of the family is still resident on the land they own, next to the hotel that was confiscated. But two family members live abroad.
‘In 1996, the Israeli army occupied the hotel building, then it withdrew; shortly after that, in 2003, the family started the legal procedures to regain control of their building, yet, the Israel army continued to use it as a military post and monitoring tower,’ he added, ‘We went to court, presented our case, and in early September 2013, the Israeli general prosecutor decided that the building does not qualify as absentee property.’
After the army and police occupied the building, they installed surveillance cameras, installed barbed-wire, and prevented all Palestinians from entering it, in addition to confiscating its surrounding lands for the same reasons, and for the construction of the Annexation Wall section in the area.
An important part of the legal battle is the army’s insistence on keeping its advanced surveillance system and cameras on the roof of the building, which also means to continue using the rooftop of the hotel, while security officials said last year that there is no need to continue using the entire building as a military base, but they still want to keep the surveillance system.
Bahar said that the army wants the hotel and its surrounding area to build a new colonial neighborhood for Jewish settlers.
Although the Israeli army left the hotel building in May of 2015, the owners were unable to return to the building, not even to conduct renovations before officially reopening it.
The Cliff Hotel was officially opened by the Ayyad family in 1961, six years before Israel occupied East Jerusalem, and before Israel established a municipal border line between the Ayyad family home and their hotel.
The Israeli daily Haaretz said the family managed to keep the hotel open until the year 2002, when Israel decided to annex the building and its lands for what it called “security considerations.”
After the illegal takeover, Israel then claimed ownership of the building and its land under the “Absentee Property Law,” although the family members who own the property were never absent, and never abandoned their property, including their home, that is just 200 yards away.