Jewish National Fund Working to Evict Palestinian Family From East Jerusalem

Together with right wing NGO Elad, a subsidiary of the JNF has filed several suits since 1991 seeking the Sumreen family's eviction

Members of the Sumreen family at their home in Silwan neighborhood, January 1, 2018.
Olivier Fitouss

A Palestinian family’s 27-year battle against attempts to evict them from their East Jerusalem home went forward on Monday in a Jerusalem court, where they are pitted against a right-wing organization that seeks to take possession of the property.

The legal basis for the attempted eviction of the Sumreen family from their Silwan home is the state’s determination that Musa Sumreen, one of the family patriarchs, is an “absentee,” because he lives in Jordan. Therefore, his home in Silwan was declared absentee property and transferred to the state, which later sold it to the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

Over the years, a KKL-JNF subsidiary called Himnuta has filed several suits seeking the family’s eviction. The first, filed in 1991, was based solely on the determination that Musa Sumreen was an absentee, and the family won.

The family then filed its own suit, seeking to be declared the property’s owner. But that suit was rejected in 1999 because the family failed to prove it had purchased the property.

Meanwhile, the state determined that Sumreen’s children were also absentees, prompting Himnuta to file a new suit in 2005. This suit even demanded that the family pay the organization 500,000 shekels ($144,000) in compensation for use of the property.

City of David

Himnuta won that suit, but in 2011 the verdict was vacated on the grounds that family members hadn’t been aware of the legal proceedings against them. Himnuta filed suit again last year, and the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court recently began hearing the case.

At Monday’s hearing, several family members testified. But Judge Miriam Kaslassy rejected a request by their attorney, Muhammad Dahleh, to submit evidence that the state’s original seizure of the building had been in error, because Musa Sumreen’s wife was still alive and had not been declared an absentee.

Though Himnuta is officially the only plaintiff in the case, it practice, the suit is being waged by Elad, a right-wing organization that hopes to obtain the house from KKL-JNF if the latter is declared the rightful owner. Elad’s attorneys have been active in managing the case and are present at all the hearings. And Himnuta’s attorney in the case, Zeev Scharf, regularly works with Elad.

The Sumreen home is located in the middle of the City of David national park, which Elad manages. Elad is also engaged in Jewish settlement in Silwan and wants the house for that purpose. The organization is expected to receive control over the property if the family is evicted, just as it has in other cases.

“I’m 32 years old,” Murad Sumreen said. “Ever since I was a young boy, we’ve lived under the pressure of eviction. Every year, we had to come to court. We were all born in this house, we played there; I’ve been there all my life,” he added. “I don’t know what I’ll tell the children if we lose the case. My job is caring for elderly Jews at a nursing home. They told me they’ll come and stand at my side on this matter.”

Members of the Sumreen family at Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, January 1, 2018.
Olivier Fitouss

Peace Now activist Hagit Ofran, who has been helping the family, charged that “KKL has turned from the Jewish National Fund into the Settler National Fund. For 26 years, KKL has been embittering the lives of the Sumreen family with expensive, exhausting lawsuits and has tried over and over to evict it from its home in Silwan. KKL is playing a central role here in an ugly process of using the Absentee Property Law on the basis of dubious testimony, all to give Palestinian assets to Elad.”

In the past, following a petition against the eviction organized by Rabbis for Human Rights, KKL-JNF tried to deny any connection to this effort, even issuing a statement claiming that the organization had no rights in, control over or responsibility for the issue.

On Monday, the organization said, “The property in question is Himnuta’s property, and there’s a ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordering that the property be vacated. Himnuta maintains its rights to the property and expects the court’s decision to be obeyed.”

File photo: East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS