Israel Razes Jerusalem Home of Jewish Family, Evicting Them After 60 Years

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Yoni Yochanan outside his home in Lifta.
Yoni Yochanan outside his home in Jerusalem's Lifta neighborhood. Yochanan has led the legal battle against the state's efforts to evict 13 families living in Lifta. Credit: Emil Salman

The Israel Lands Authority has demolished the house of a Jewish family that had lived in Jerusalem’s Lifta neighborhood for decades.

The authority plans to evict a total of 13 Jewish families from Lifta, most of whom are negotiating with the Finance Ministry over a voluntary evacuation.

The family whose home was razed claimed the demolition also destroyed a historic building that was slated for preservation.

Jewish families first settled in Lifta, an abandoned Arab village located near Jerusalem’s western entrance, in the 1950s at the behest of the Jewish Agency. The families, who were originally from Kurdistan, never received property rights to their houses, despite the fact that a quasi-governmental agency had settled them there. Then, about a decade ago, the ILA and the Jerusalem municipality began seeking eviction orders against the 13 families.

Four years ago, while the courts were still considering the issue, Lifta resident Yoni Yochanan discovered historical documents demonstrating that the state had deliberately kept the families in the dark about a procedure that would have allowed them to acquire property rights to their houses back in the 1950s. Following that discovery, most of the families began negotiating with the treasury on voluntary evacuation in exchange for compensation.

Remains of the Palestinian village of Lifta on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Credit: Tomer Neuberg / Jini

But legal proceedings against one family, the Moalems, had already advanced too far for them to be included in the negotiations. In December 2014, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court issued an eviction order against the Moalems, and their appeals to the district court and the Supreme Court were rejected.

Thus the family left the house last week, and on Sunday, the ILA’s bulldozers arrived to demolish it.

Attorney Moti Shimon, who represents the Moalems, said that in the process of destroying their house, the ILA also destroyed an older building that was part of the original Arab village and had been slated for preservation.

Liz Moalem, the matriarch of the family, is still grieving the loss of her home. “My husband’s grandfather and grandmother met in Lifta, through two of the families that were living there,” she said. “My mother-in-law was born in Lifta. They’ve done us wrong. They tied a rope around our necks.”

“It was the Jewish Agency that put us here; I have all the historical documents,” added Yochanan. “The fact that our rights weren’t resolved is due to racism. The family’s eviction is a continuation of the original sin.”

The ILA said the families had squatted on ILA land, built houses there illegally and even rented them to third parties. The court rulings in the case “determined unequivocally that they must vacate the land without any compensation.”

“The building that was destroyed was a new building built on top of the remnants of an older, destroyed building that wasn’t earmarked for preservation,” it continued. “The Israel Antiquities Authority consented to the demolition of the entire structure.”

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