The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday ordered the eviction of a Palestinian family from the Silwan neighborhood outside Jerusalem's Old city, dismissing their appeal and ruling in favor of the right-wing Elad Association, a settler organization that owns the majority of the building.
The ruling brings to an end a nearly 30-year legal battle over the property. Elad’s victory also has symbolic value because the evicted people are relatives of Jawad Siyam, a social worker and community activist who is considered a leader among Silwan’s Palestinians. After his family leaves their apartment and adjacent storefront, Siyam and his brothers will have to share the building with the settlers.
Elad has brought six separate legal cases against the Siyam family. At first, the settler group claimed that it had purchased the entire home from Siyam's grandmother, who owned it when she was still alive, and they presented a contract. A court ruled that the contract was not valid and Elad lost the case.
The grandmother left the property to eight heirs. In the next stage of the proceedings, Elad managed to buy the rights from the three male heirs. The association then went to court and argued that the female heirs of the family had yielded their claim to the property to the men of the family, and thus the house belonged solely to Elad. But this claim was also dismissed by the court, which ruled that the NGO held only three-eighths of the property.
The next stage involved the Custodian of Absentee Property. The custodian argued that since two of the female heirs live abroad, they are considered absentees, and therefore, based on the Law of Absentee Property, their rights were transferred to the custodian – even though several attorneys general and Supreme Court justices were critical of implementing the Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem. Thus the custodian became the owner of one-quarter of the home. Elad, meanwhile, had purchased the share of another daughter, thus becoming owner of half the home. The last quarter of the property remained with the Siyam family.
Last year, the custodian announced it was selling its quarter of the home, which Elad won by bidding more than 2 million shekels ($555,000) for it. Thus in the end, Elad owned three-quarters of the structure.
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Based on this, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered Elham Siyam, a single mother of four children and the daughter of one of the absentees, to evacuate the home in favor of the settlers. The family was also ordered to evacuate the adjacent store it owned and the yard. On Tuesday, the district court rejected the family’s appeal and ordered them to also pay 10,000 shekels in court costs.
“The story of Silwan properties is a David and Goliath story,” Peace Now said in response. “An NGO rich in resources and assets uses the best lawyers to file lengthy, exhausting lawsuits against hard-up Palestinian families, families who have to spend lots of money to try to protect their home and who must pay lawyers and experts for expensive legal proceedings, at the end of which they are also required to pay court costs. For its part, the Custodian of Absentee Property is helping the settlers take control of the homes."
Last week, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Elad, which attempted to keep the state from releasing information about the association’s properties to the Movement for Freedom of Information.
The state agreed to release the information, but Elad appealed and even demanded that the hearing be held behind closed doors and without allowing the movement to attend. The Jerusalem District Court dismissed Elad’s arguments and ruled that the movement would be part of the proceedings and the hearings would be open. Elad appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, which, as noted, dismissed the appeal. Elad was ordered to pay the Freedom of Information Movement 1,000 shekels in expenses.
Elad said in a statement, “The rulings and decisions speak for themselves. We will continue to work in accordance with the law to advance and develop ancient Jerusalem.”