After 30 Years of Legal Battle, Israeli Court OKs Evacuation of East Jerusalem Family

The Jewish National Fund, backed by settler group, has sought the evacuation of 18 Palestinian family members ■ Two Palestinians brothers wounded in clashes with Israeli police during home demolition

The Sumreen family pose for a photo at their East Jerusalem home, March 23, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

An Israeli court ordered Friday the evacuation of 18 Palestinian family members from their home in East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood, ending a decades-long legal battle.

Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Miriam Kaslassy ordered the eviction of the Sumreen family, who have been fighting for 30 years against the Jewish National Fund’s attempts to take ownership of their home, backed by far-right settler group Elad.

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The JNF claims that one of the family’s ancestors was an “absentee,” i.e., a civilian who lived in an enemy country, as a result of which his property was confiscated by the state, which sold it to the JNF. This sale failed, however, when it was proved that the so-called absentee had actually lived and died in Jerusalem. 

Subsequently, the JNF managed to prove that two of the man’s heirs were absentees, and as such, it indeed owns the structure. Kaslassy accepted the JNF’s claim of ownership on this basis.

Both local and foreign left-wing activists have been critical of the JNF for its actions against the Sumreen family. 

Meanwhile, two East Jerusalem residents were wounded Tuesday in clashes between policemen and members of a Palestinian family during the demolition of their apartment by the Jerusalem municipality. 

Documentation of the incident shows border policemen hitting the two brothers, Issa and Kusai Khalil. They both had to seek medical treatment, their father said.

Issa and Kusai Khalil in a violent clash with Israeli police, East Jerusalem, September 24, 2019
Screengrab

Police detained the brothers and later released them on condition they do not enter Jerusalem during the next two days. 

Mohammed Khalil, the owner of the house, said he had built the apartment as a second story above his home for his son Issa, who had married recently. Khalil said there was no way to get a permit to build the home legally. 

“They gave me a demolition order for the house and told me to demolish only the roof, which I did yesterday on my own,” he said. “Today they came and said that wasn’t enough; we had to demolish the entire house. They brought all these soldiers and started to push us; you can’t even look up, whoever looks at them gets yelled at.” 

According to Khalil, his younger children, “are hot-blooded. They started to curse and push and it turned into chaos.”

“I barely managed to build this house from everything I worked for all my life. Now everything is gone,” he added.

“The Jerusalem municipality is not advancing proper master plans for the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods,” says researcher Aviv Tatarsky, from the Ir Amim non-profit. “Since the beginning of the year the municipality has progressed planning permissions for 12,000 housing units in the Israeli neighborhoods, and 1,500 units in the Palestinian neighborhoods. Because of this discrimination residents of East Jerusalem are forced to build without permits”

“The state has to put an end to the demographic war on the residents of Palestinian Jerusalem and provide solutions for the housing needs of those who constitute 38 percent of the city’s population,” Tatarsky added. 

Israeli Policemen in East Jerusalem, January, 2019.

 “A force that came to execute a demolition order against an illegal construction in A-Tur was met with serious physical and verbal violence by two members of the family who rioted and tried to prevent the enforcement of a lawful court order,” a police statement said. “The two suspects were arrested for assaulting police officers… after which things calmed down and the demolition was carried out without any other unusual incidents.”

“If there are claims against any of the officers operating at the scene, they should be examined by the competent authorities,” the statement concluded.