Israel's Top Court Postpones Eviction of Palestinian Family in East Jerusalem

The verdict, along with a similar one on Sheikh Jarrah, complicates settler groups' strategy of getting Palestinian families in East Jerusalem evicted

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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A general view of Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood close to Jerusalem's Old City.
A general view of Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood close to Jerusalem's Old City.Credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Israel's High Court of Justice partially granted a petition by a Palestinian family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Thursday to postpone their eviction until a further hearing.

The verdict, echoing a similar ruling on East Jerusalem's flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, seems to block off a favored strategy for Jewish settler groups to acquire land in East Jerusalem – evicting Palestinian families by claiming property owned by Jews before 1948.

The ruling was handed down with a 2-1 majority, with justices Daphne Barak-Erez and Isaac Amit voting in favor of the petition and Judge David Mintz voting against it.

The Duweik family purchased the property from another Palestinian family in 1965, when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule, but the right-wing Ateret Cohanim organization, one of the driving forces behind Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, has sought to evict the families on the plot on the grounds that Yemenite Jewish families had owned the land until 1938.

In 2001, the Ateret Cohanim members appealed to the Justice Ministry's administrator general and received its permission to become trustees of the Benvenisti Trust, a Jewish religious trust established a century prior, which owned land in Silwan where the Jewish families lived.

After Ateret Cohanim took over the trust, it began filing eviction suits against some 70 families living on the plot, including the Duweik family. In 2012, the district court confirmed the trust’s ownership of the home and the family was served with an eviction suit in 2014.

The family's lawyer, Hussam Siam, along with Israeli justices, have criticized the administrator general for only filing the eviction request in 2014 – 49 years after the family moved into the house, and argues that the statute of limitations applies to the eviction request. The statute states that if the trustees were aware of the land's status and didn't act upon it, the Dweik family has a claim to the land.

The trustees, represented by attorney Avraham Moshe Segal, argued in response that as long as the land was in the hands of the administrator, until 2001, the statute of limitations does not apply.

Justice Barak-Erez accepted Siam’s argument that the administrator's presumptive possession does not apply to public land, and that the administrator did not act to realize its ownership of the land for decades. Justice Amit accepted the settlers' argument that the land is public but raised doubt as to whether the trustees were aware of the land's status.

This comes four months after Israel's top court ruled that Palestinian families slated for eviction in Sheikh Jarrah could stay there until a final decision on property rights in the neighborhood is reached.

Sheikh Jarrah has been an ongoing site of violent clashes and become a symbol of Palestinian resistance ahead of the Israel-Gaza war last year, when a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip threatened that any eviction would prompt a violent response.

Sheikh Jarrah was founded in the late 19th century by prominent Palestinian families from Jerusalem. Later, two small neighborhoods for impoverished Jews were established there. Both were abandoned in 1948, and Palestinian refugees from west Jerusalem and other parts of Israel moved in.

Because current Israeli law allows only Jews to reclaim property they owned before 1948, right-wing Jewish organizations have been working to locate the heirs of Jewish property in Sheikh Jarrah in order to evict the Palestinian residents. To date, five Palestinian families have been evicted, and legal proceedings are ongoing in dozens of other cases.

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