JNF Board Member Resigns to Protest Eviction of East Jerusalem Palestinian Family

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A Jewish National Fund board member announced his resignation Tuesday after discovering that the organization tasked with managing land in Israel was behind the attempted eviction of a Palestinian family from their home in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

In a letter published in the Jewish Daily Forward, Seth Morrison stated that he could no longer work for the JNF after learning that the organization was behind the launching of eviction proceedings against the Sumarin family, a move that Morrison says is not isolated and prevents a long-term peace.

An Israeli flag hangs outside a settler's home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.Credit: Emil Salman

Morrison called the attempted expulsion a violation of human rights which he sees as part of a systematic transfer of Palestinian property to Jewish settlers who wish to put facts on the ground that hinder a lasting peace agreement.

Morrisons resignation comes weeks after a Haaretz report first revealed the JNFs involvement in the Sumarin familys eviction attempt. According to the report, a Jewish National Fund subsidiary, Himnuta, has been trying to get the family out of the house since 1991, saying it owns the premises, having acquired it that same year. The house had previously been acquired by the Custodian of Absentee Properties, after original owner Musa Sumarin passed away in 1983 and his three heirs were all living abroad.

The JNF attempted to downplay its connection to the site, referring inquiries to Elad, a group that has been bringing Jews to live in East Jerusalem and obtaining leases for much of the property Himnuta acquired in Silwan.

Following Haaretzs initial report, the left-wing groups Rabbis for Human Rights and the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement launched a campaign against the JNF, including its American affiliate. The campaign was also launched in the United Kingdom by the left-wing Jewish organization Yachad.

Following the campaign, the JNF announced that it was not a party to the eviction case, claiming that Elad had pursued the action without any connection to the Jewish National Fund.

Their announcement also took Rabbis for Human Rights to task for not checking the facts. The statement said the JNF had leased the property where the Sumarin family is living to Elad in the early 1990s, as a result of Elad's archaeological activities in the area. The JNF said it has no control or responsibility for what was done at the property and any issue is between the Sumarin family and Elad.

The legal documents in the eviction action, however, show that Himnuta, a wholly-owned JNF subsidiary, was the party that brought the current legal action.

The eviction action has been going on for 20 years, before four different courts, and in each case Himnuta was the plaintiff in the matter; Elad was never a legal party to the action. Himnuta is also pursuing two other eviction cases in the neighborhood. It should be noted, however, that the lawyers representing Himnuta represented Elad in other eviction actions in Silwan.

For its part, the JNF said the court ordered the Sumarin family to leave the premises in 2006 and family members have rebuffed efforts to seriously discuss a resolution of the case. Nonetheless, the JNF said, additional time would be granted to resolve the issue. Elad did not comment.