Family Endowments and the Collapse of the Public Sector: New Light on Jerusalem’s Waqf Properties


This talk examined  the changing status of endowed properties (family and public) on the eve of Israeli occupation of the old city of Jerusalem and its subsequent annexation in 1968. The main historical source for analyzing waqf properties in Jerusalem and other Arab cities have been title deeds of endowments recorded in the  Islamic Court records, and the Ottoman tax registry known as Tahrir Defterleri.  New archival sources for assessing waqf properties have emerged recently which make our understanding of endowments clearer: those include architectural field surveys of private homes, and public establishments in the city, aerial photography recently made available from British, Ottoman/German, and Israeli sources, and Arab tax register of old city property and leases. 

One main finding of this study is the historical continuity of the using of public endowments as a means of providing medical, health and schooling facilities for the poor. There has been a historical decline in the use of royal (or state) decrees in allocating waqf property as a form of patronage or, as in the case of khaski sultan during the 16th century, for the provision of soup kitchens takaya, for the poor, in order to commemorate the name of the Sultan, the royal family, or urban potentates.  The state has assumed many of these functions in an increasingly secularized form. By contrast Family waqf deeds, which has been a historical instrument for preserving family property from the danger of fragmentation through inheritance, has continued to increase its weight in Palestine and in particular in the old city of Jerusalem.  Family Waqf (dhirri) registration has been a crucial instrument of responding to political crisis in various periods of the twentieth century.