Palestinians entangled in lawsuits to claim ownership of properties grabbed by the state of Israel have found a new sidekick in their legal battle: The Ottomans or rather, the archives of the now-defunct empire, which once ruled present-day Israel, Palestine and much of the Middle East for centuries.
Turkey opened the Ottoman land registry archives to Palestinian litigants so that Israel "can't tell Palestinians this land is not yours," said Kudret Bülbül, the head of a Turkish agency overseeing the process.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Bülbül, the head of the Turks Abroad and Related Communities Directorate of the Prime Ministry (YTB), said the archives provided evidence to the original land register. "Israel occasionally violates laws. It confiscated public and private properties in Palestine under various excuses, such as denying the existence of historical ownership of those properties by foundations or the existence of a former Palestinian settlement. The opening of the archives aims to prevent these claims. Under our project, land registers, sultans' decrees or historical documents proving the property ownership of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories are being examined," he said. Bülbül added that they would translate the documents he defined as historical evidence into English, Arabic, French and other languages "so Palestinians can defend their cause before international bodies and the courts better," he said.
The YTB will scan the archives for all documents related to Palestine and hand over copies of requested documents to Palestinian litigants in relevant cases. The agency will also check the Ottoman archives in other countries for documents related to Palestine.
The agency will also support independent studies on Palestinian history and set up a library of historical documents.
The use of Ottoman archives to prove Palestinians' property claims was at the center of a lawsuit over the ownership of residences in an East Jerusalem neighborhood. Palestinian families facing eviction from the neighborhood were given access to Ottoman archives to prove that the area they live in belonged to Palestinian families. Several families were evicted from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in 2009 after the court ruled in favor of Jewish families who claimed they had title deeds dating back to Ottoman times, which showed the land was bought by Jews. Palestinians claimed the deeds were forged. Apart from East Jerusalem, Palestinians are engaged in legal disputes with Jewish settlers and the state of Israel for properties in the West Bank.
The Republic of Turkey strained its relations with Israel and adopted a pro-Palestinian stance following Israel's brutal offensives in Gaza and an attack on Turkish activists bringing aid to Gaza. The Turkish government enjoys good relations with the Palestinian Authority as well as the Hamas administration in Gaza.