Decolonizing French Algeria in Israel: French and Algerian Land Claims to the Waqf of Abū Madyan, 1948-1963

By Andrew Bellisari
Submitted to Session P4669 (Changing Spaces: Fluidities, Contests and Ruptures in the Mediterranean Basin, 2016 Annual Meeting
Algeria; Europe; Israel; Palestine;
19th-21st Centuries; Arab-Israeli Conflict; Colonialism; Maghreb Studies; Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In 1955 the French government launched an unprecedented, but little-known legal battle against the state of Israel to protect 15,000 hectares of hilly farmland located in the town of ‘Ayn Karim that the Israeli government had expropriated to build a new medical school for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The land in question, however, technically fell under the purview of the Government General of French Algeria: it was part of a waqf established in the fourteenth century by the grandson of the Algerian Sufi mystic Abū Madyan Shuʻayb Al-Ansari Telimçani, the revenue from which went to establish a number charitable institutions in Jerusalem’s Mughrabi Quarter. Following the French invasion of Algeria in 1830, France became the custodian of all inalienable Islamic endowments associated with Algeria, including the Abū Madyan waqf in Palestine. Thus, in an ironic turn of historical circumstances, when that property came under the threat of seizure France was able to initiate legal proceedings on behalf of its Muslim subjects in North Africa to protect a religious land grant located 1,9000 miles away in another country. Moreover, the very same case pursued by France against Israel would be legally transferred to a newly independent Algerian state following its accession to nationhood in July 1962, consequently giving an Arab country that openly supported the Palestinian cause a direct claim over territory in Israel estimated at several billion francs.

Using newly accessible primary sources located in French diplomatic archives, this paper will explore the circumstances surrounding the French—and later Algerian—claims to the Abū Madyan waqf in ‘Ayn Karim. It will also chart the evolution of the court case within the wider context of French decolonization by analyzing the reasoning used by both French policymakers and Algerian Muslim notables to protect French Algerian property interests in Israel despite the outbreak of the Algerian War of Independence in 1954. Lastly, it will investigate the ultimate fate of the land claim once Algeria became independent in 1962 and address the lingering connections of colonial disentanglement that often do not fit neatly into the common narrative of the “end of empire.” It is hoped that this paper will contribute to a broadened understanding of how the processes of decolonization extend beyond the traditional binary of colonizer/colonized and highlight the often unintended consequences of imperial withdrawal.