The High Court of Justice is scheduled to hear a petition Sunday that could determine the fate of 70 Palestinian families living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan who stand to be evicted by a Jewish settler organization with the aid of the Justice Ministry.
The petition was submitted by 104 residents of Batan al-Hawa, a section of Silwan, who represent hundreds of members of some 70 families who are slated for eviction because their homes were built on land that was owned by Jews before the establishment of the state in 1948.
The eviction demand came from the Benvenisti Trust, established around 120 years ago by Jewish community leaders in Jerusalem for the purpose of building homes for Jews from Yemen. Since 2001, the right-wing Ateret Cohanim organization has controlled the trust.
In 2002, the Justice Ministry’s Custodian General released the Batan al-Hawa plots to the trust. Since then, the magistrate’s court and the district court have repeatedly confirmed Ateret Cohanim’s rights to the land, without reviewing the General Custodian’s original decision to release the land.
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The petitioners are demanding that the High Court reverse the judgment awarding the land on which their homes are built, on the grounds that the decision was inconsistent with the principles of good government. Citing Ottoman law regarding use of the land in question, they say the Benvenisti Trust had rights only to the buildings that were put up on the land in the late 19th century and demolished prior to 1948, and not to the land itself.
Last week the petitioners submitted a copy of a legal opinion issued by the Custodian General itself in a similar case relating to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in which the positions were reversed. There, the trust administrating the land was a Muslim one that sought to prevent the eviction of Palestinian families. The Custodian General explained that the rights of the trust to the land were invalid, citing the same Ottoman laws.