A Jerusalem court ordered last week, in two separate cases, the eviction of dozens of Palestinian residents from their homes in East Jerusalem. The beneficiaries will be settler associations who argued that the homes belonged to Jews before 1948.
According to Israeli law, returning property from before the 1948 war is permitted for Jews only, while Palestinians are ineligible to reclaim property abandoned before 1948. In both cases, right-wing activists had been working to expel the residents since acquiring the land or took control of an Ottoman-era trust.
Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Efrat Eichenstein ruled that 26 members of al-Fatah Rajbi family living in the Baten al-Hawa neighborhood in Silwan must hand over their homes to Ateret Cohanim. The family has lived there since 1966, after the grandfather bought the land from a Palestinian seller. However, the court accepted the claim of Ateret Cohanim representatives that Jews had owned the land before 1948 as part of a Yemenite neighborhood in Silwan.
The land had belonged to an Ottoman-era trust registered in the name of one Rabbi Moshe Benvenisti. The Jerusalem District Court granted the request by three Ateret Cohanim members to become trustees of the land in 2001. They have since sued some 700 Palestinians living on land belonging to the trust with the aim of having them evicted. In one of Ateret Cohanim’s many lawsuits, the court ordered the eviction of 11 families, numbering 67 people, from Baten al-Hawa. The families appealed before the Jerusalem District Court, which has yet to issue a final ruling.
Peace Now said following the decision: "For every dunam of land owned by Jews before 1948 that was lost in the war, there are hundreds of thousands of dunams of land in Israel that were owned by Palestinians before 1948 and were lost. The settlers’ demand to evict Palestinians based on pre-1948 ownership is a strategic threat on the moral justification of hundreds of thousands of Israelis living on properties and lands that had belonged to Palestinians.”
In a similar case in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Judge Miriam Lifshits ruled that three Palestinian families living in the neighborhood since the 1950s must evacuate their homes and turn them over to a company owned by right-wing activists. The Jordanian government and the United Nations built the homes for Palestinian refugees in the 1950s. In this case, the company, Nahalat Shimon, proved that the land had belonged to the Sephardic Jewish community council and the Ashkenazi council before 1948 and was sold to it in the 1990s. The judge accepted the company’s claims and ordered the residents’ eviction by the end of August. She also ordered the Palestinians to pay the plaintiffs 30,000 shekels ($8,800) in court fees.
On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a 78-year-old Silwan resident against eviction from his home. His landlord had sold the home to the Elad settler association, which is seeking his eviction, but a Magistrate’s Court recognized him as having protected tenants’ rights. The court ruled that the association was entitled to evict him but would have to pay 360,000 shekels compensation. The Jerusalem District Court rejected both sides’ appeals. The Supreme Court ruled that the man must leave by mid-October.
In June, Silwan residents filed a petition against Ateret Cohanim and the Charitable Trust Registrar, arguing that the association has a serious conflict of interest with the Benvenisti Trust, and that it is not honoring the original trust, which was created 120 years ago to benefit the city’s poor. The petitioners argue that, in taking control of the land, the association has effectively become the landowner. Judge Eichenstein accepted the trust’s position, ordered the homes evacuated by next April and ordered the Palestinians to pay the trust 7,500 shekels.
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