In one of East Jerusalem's most posh districts is a house that formerly belonged to the father of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and which was confiscated by the Israeli government and sold without compensating the owner or the heirs.
The house, located in the neighborhood of Shuafat in northeastern Jerusalem, is a villa with an area of 650 square meters and has16 bedrooms. It is five kilometers away from al-Aqsa mosque and the road where it is located leads to Ramallah and Nablus.
Mohamed Awad bin Laden, a famous contractor, started building the house in 1962 at the time he was assigned by the Saudi government to carry out renovation work at al–Aqsa mosque. In 1967, Israel occupied Jerusalem and one year after the house was confiscated and sold.
No compensation was paid to bin Laden senior or his heirs, one of whom was his son Osama. Out of the 54 sons the father had from 22 wives, Osama bin Laden's share is estimated at 170,000 U.S. dollars at least.
At the time the house was built, it attracted the residents of the neighborhood because of the animals in its garden, said Shuafat mayor Abdul-Razeq Amouri.
"Our house overlooked the garden of the bin Laden house," he told Al Arabiya Tuesday. "When I was six or seven years old, I remember seeing two gazelles and a peacock. There was also chicken, sheep, and roosters."
Amouri said he assumed that Osama bin Laden visited this house when he was a child since the father used to come to the house with many of his children.
"However, there is no evidence that Osama bin Laden visited Jerusalem. He was less than 13 years old when his father died."
Mohamed Awad bin Laden was killed in a plane crash when he was on his to the south of Saudi Arabia to supervise a project his company was contracting.
Rescued from Israeli hands
Maain Khouri, a lawyer and the current owner of the villa, refused for years to speak to the media until he agreed to talk to Al Arabiya.
Khouri, born to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother, said the house was first confiscated by the Israeli government which gave it to an Israeli family.
"The family obtained legal ownership to the house under the Absentee Property Law under which Israelis confiscated Palestinian houses and lands," he told Al Arabiya.
The family later put the house for sale and for years no one offered to buy it until Khouri did.
"After I had the money, I bought the house for 900,000 dollars in late 1994."
Khouri added that it was his sister who first bought the first floor of the house then he bought the second floor and built two floors above it.
"I have more than 300 pictures of the different phases the house has undergone since I bought and till now."
I rescued the villa from Israeli hands and I will never sell it to them. I can only sell it to a Palestinian like me or an Arab
Villa owner Maain Khouri
The iron gate at the entrance of the house was what attracted Khouri most when he bought the house.
"It was a piece of art and it reflected the owner's aesthetic taste. However I had to replace it because it was worn out. I still, however, have its pictures."
The only furniture left in the house at the time of the sale was a pair of chairs which he still keeps.
As for the possibility of selling the house, Khouri said he will never sell it to Israelis.
"I rescued the villa from Israeli hands and I will never sell it to them. I can only sell it to a Palestinian like me or an Arab. In this case, I would ask for 8-10 million US dollars."
Khouri added that if any bin Laden's sons wanted the house, he would give it for free on one condition.
"I would ask them to turn it into a museum that contains the belongings of their father."
Absentee Property Law
Khalil al-Tafakji, a geographical systems and maps expert at the Arab Studies Association in Jerusalem, said that the Absentee Property Law was issued in 1950 in order to allow the Israeli government to get hold of Palestinian land on the grounds that they are no longer living on it.
"Israel confiscated not only property owned by Palestinians but also by any citizen of a country Israel considered an enemy state like Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan," he told Al Arabiya.
Tafakji added that the heirs of bin Laden cannot claim the house now because all documents related to the house are legal under Israeli laws.
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)
Israel confiscated not only property owned by Palestinians but also by any citizen of a country Israel considered an enemy state
Geographical systems and maps expert Khalil al-Tafakji