Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that drafts of the country’s Declaration of Independence cannot be sold privately, declaring them to be state property.
The court’s decision has ended a four year legal battle between the Israeli State and the sons of Mordechai Beham, the Jerusalem lawyer who was charged by Pinchas Rosen, the future justice minister of Israel, with drafting the declaration in 1948.
Mr Beham, who had studied law in London, wrote the original draft of the declaration in English, before penning a Hebrew version with some previous passages excised and new ones added.
He kept his initial drafts of the declaration in his own collection, which was subsequently inherited by his sons.
As described by Haaretz, in 2015 Kedem, a Jerusalem auction house, displayed the drafts and began the bidding on them at $250,000, estimating them that the price would reach approximately $1 million.
But the State then stepped in, claiming the documents were of historic importance and had been written by an employee of the soon-to-be country, and were therefore national property. Mr Beham’s sons argued he had volunteered his services and that, close to seven decades later, the statute of limitations for the State to bring such a claim had expired.
The Supreme Court’s decision overturned a 2017 ruling by the Jerusalem District Court in favour of the Beham brothers. At the time Judge Tamar Bazak-Rapoport had said she did not believe “that a reasonable employer would insist that everything an employee records for himself in his free time should be delivered to the employer.”
However, the Supreme Court saw things differently, maintaining that Mordechai Beham had written the drafts while working as a civil servant for the administration which would become the government of the Israeli State, and that the drafts were “part of the State of Israel’s cultural assets and testimony to our past, a part of our collective identity.”
The drafts will now be handed over to Israel’s National Archive.