Israel Evicts Palestinian Family From East Jerusalem Home, Handing It to Settlers

Jerusalem court dismisses the appeal of the Siyam family, ending a 30-year court battle in favor of the right-wing Jewish association Elad

Police remove the Siyam family from their East Jerusalem home, July 10, 2019.
Free Jerusalem

The police evicted a Palestinian family from their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Wednesday, after the Jerusalem District Court had dismissed their appeal and ruled in favor of the right-wing Elad Association, a settler organization that owns the majority of the building.

The police closed off the entire area and forcefully removed the Siyam family from their house, after which Elad began to move out the family’s property. Now Jews will live alongside Palestinians in the building.

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The court ruling brought to an end a nearly 30-year legal battle over the property. Elad’s victory also had symbolic value because the people evicted from the apartment and a nearby store are relatives of Jawad Siyam, a social worker and community activist who is considered a leader of Silwan residents.

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Elad has brought six separate legal cases against the Siyam family in an effort to remove them from the building. At first, the group claimed it had purchased the entire home from Siyam's grandmother, who owned it when she was still alive, and they presented a contract. A court ruled that the contract was not valid and Elad lost the case.

The grandmother left the property to eight heirs, all family members. In the next stage, Elad bought the rights from three male heirs. The association then went to court and argued that the female heirs of the family had yielded their claim to the property to the men of the family, and thus the house belonged solely to Elad. But this claim was also dismissed by the court, which ruled that the NGO owned only three-eighths of the property.

Jawad Siyam in his Silwan home, October 22, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The next stage involved the Custodian of Absentee Property. The custodian argued that since two of the female heirs live abroad, they are considered absentees, and therefore, based on the Law of Absentee Property, their rights were transferred to the custodian – even though several attorneys general and Supreme Court justices were critical of implementing the Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem.

Thus the custodian became the owner of one-quarter of the home. Elad, meanwhile, had purchased the share of another daughter, thus becoming owner of half the home. The last quarter of the property remained in the hands of the Siyam family.

Last year, after the District Court ruling, the Custodian announced it was selling its quarter of the home, which Elad bought by bidding more than 2 million shekels ($555,000) for it. Thus in the end, Elad owned three-quarters of the structure.

Based on this, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered Elham Siyam, a single mother of four children and the daughter of one of the absentees, to evacuate the home in favor of the new owners. The family was also ordered to evacuate the adjacent store it owned as well as the courtyard. Last month, the district court rejected the family’s appeal and also ordered them to pay 10,000 shekels ($2,798) in legal costs to Elad.

Israeli left-wing NGO Peace Now released a statement saying that “the story of Silwan properties is a David and Goliath story… An NGO rich in resources and assets uses the best lawyers to file lengthy, exhausting lawsuits against hard-up Palestinian families, families who have to spend  a lot of money to try to protect their home and who must pay lawyers and experts for expensive legal proceedings, at the end of which they are also required to pay court costs. The Custodian of Absentee Property is helping the settlers take control of the homes."

Last week, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Elad, which attempted to keep the state from releasing information about the association’s properties to the Movement for Freedom of Information.

Elad was also ordered to pay the Freedom of Information Movement 1,000 shekels ($280) in expenses.

Elad released the following statement: “The rulings and decisions speak for themselves. We will continue to work in accordance with the law to advance and develop ancient Jerusalem.”