I was fortunate to have gone on the Marquette University international spring break trip to Israel with Professors Schneider and Fleury and students in their Dispute Resolution Seminar. I attended the trip as a faculty guest without the benefit of being an expert in dispute resolution like my two colleagues or studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like the students enrolled in the seminar. Rather, my expertise is in the areas of tax and real estate law. Before embarking on the trip, I was excited to embrace the trip’s focus on dispute resolution, but I was also intent on learning as much as possible about my primary areas. I will limit my observations to real estate law.
One of the highlights of the trip was meeting with professors, justices of the Israeli Supreme Court, students, lawyers, historians, and other leaders. We also had two wonderful tour guides who provided us with a wealth of information during the entire trip. During our tour of Lifta, an abandoned Palestinian village in Jerusalem, I learned that the government owned approximately 90% of Israeli land. Therefore, most homeowners build their homes on land that is leased from the government under 99-year ground leases. The leases were executed post-1948; thus, none of them had expired. I asked the professor leading our tour of Lifta what would happen at the end of the lease terms. Her response was that no one really knew. In comparison, many long-term ground leases in the United States are renewable and include options to purchase. With the “bundle of rights” that we place on property in the United States, I find this lack of clarity related to the Israeli leases to be a bit unsettling.
Another property law issue that surfaced during our tour of Lifta dealt with the law of takings. Under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, if the government takes property for public use, it must pay compensation. I was told that in Israel, the government did not need to pay compensation for property that was taken for a public purpose, but it must pay compensation for property taken for a private purpose. In Lifta, Palestinians fled the village in 1948 after several of them were killed or injured in a violent attack. Fifty-five houses still stand after the attack, but the village has remained abandoned (except a few homeless individuals who occupy some of the space). In 2011, there were plans to tear down these houses, destroying this significant historical site, to build new ones and a hotel. However, the government was only going to pay compensation to Israelis if their homes were demolished for the development, but it was not going to pay any compensation to the Palestinians. In the United States, property cannot be taken for a private purpose even if the government pays compensation. Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court in the controversial case of Kelo v. City of New London, applied a deferential approach to the meaning of public use and permitted private property to be taken in favor of Pfizer, Inc. to revitalize the economically distressed city of New London. Ironically, after the homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood were razed for the project, Pfizer never developed the property and it remains vacate today.
In the context of dispute resolution, I left Israel with a new perspective on the conflict. We visited Zefat College School of Law, and the Marquette law students completed a dispute resolution exercise with the Zefat law students. After the exercise, the Zefat students had the opportunity to
share some thoughts with our group. I was surprised to learn that there were both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arab Muslims in the class. My ignorance led me to believe that there was very little interaction between the two groups. Clearly, that is not the case. Both the Jewish and Arab students were quite passionate about acknowledging the longstanding conflict, but they agreed that it was their conflict and they didn’t want other countries intervening.
The other activity that changed my perspective was our tour of a neighborhood in the West Bank. I was under the impression that it was unsafe because of the conflict. To my surprise, I felt perfectly safe as we moved from the eastern portion to the western portion of the West Bank and noticed the Israelis and Palestinians doing the same. Undoubtedly, there are many issues that divide the Israelis and Palestinians, but in many instances, they are coexisting peacefully and joining forces for various causes.
In summary, it was an amazing trip that allowed us to do things like float in the Dead Sea, tour the Supreme Court of Israel and some biblical sites, and gain a better understanding of the conflict.