The Supreme Court ordered Thursday that a 79-year-old Palestinian and his family be evicted from their East Jerusalem home after a long-running legal battle, noting it was doing so “with a heavy heart.”
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For decades, up to 10 members of the Shamasneh family have been living in a tiny house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. In recent years the family - father, Ayoub; mother, Fahima; and their son, his wife and their six children - has been embroiled in a legal struggle with the Custodian of Absentee Property at the Justice Ministry and the Jewish heirs of the original, pre-1948 owners of the residence. The Jewish heirs are being helped by a right-wing NGO that promotes Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah.
About 18 months ago, the district court rejected the Palestinian family’s claim that they are protected tenants and ordered their eviction. The family, aided by attorney Mohand Jabara, then appealed to the Supreme Court.
In the appeal, Jabara claimed that the family members, none of whom reads Hebrew, did not understand the contracts they’ve been signing all these years. Furthermore, Jabara said the heirs who submitted the request for the eviction concealed from the court the fact that the Custodian of Absentee Property has no rights to the property and is not a party to the proceedings.
Three Supreme Court justices – Edna Arbel, Hanan Melcer and Noam Sohlberg – rejected the Palestinian family’s appeal and ordered it to leave the house. In an unusual move, the justices wrote that they made the decision “with a heavy heart.
“It should not be easy to evict someone from his home, certainly not when we are talking about an elderly man who has lived there for many years,” they said. “This is why, in this case, we tried over and over to promote a compromise between the sides that would allow the appellant to continue living in the house until old age. Much to our chagrin, the sides rejected our proposal and we are therefore forced to rule on the basis of the law.”
The justices decided that, given the circumstances “and our wish to minimize the hurt to the appellant,” the execution of the order would be stayed by 18 months, allowing the Shamasneh family to continue living in the house until the end of February 2015.