Dozens of East Jerusalem Palestinians Face Eviction Following Settlers' Lawsuits

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Mohammad Sabag in his home in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, November 24, 2020.
Mohammad Sabag in his home in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, November 24, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

Eighty-seven Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are expected to be evicted from their homes following three court decisions in favor of the settler nonprofit organizations that own their homes.

All three cases involve lawsuits by right-wing groups demanding to evict the Palestinians from property that was owned by Jews before the founding of Israel in 1948 and is now restored to its owners.

In some cases, the residents are families of refugees who owned property in Israel before 1948, but the Absentees’ Property Law prevents them from receiving their property back. In one case, a person from right-wing settler group Ateret Cohanim offered the father of one of the families help in a kidney transplant as part of a deal to evacuate the house.

This week three judges of the Jerusalem District Court denied the appeal of the Dweik family from Silwan and ordered the evacuation of the building within two weeks on behalf of Ateret Cohanim . The family intends on appealing to the district court.

Thirty family members live in the building, including 12 children under 18. The family has lived there since 1963. They were also sued for 600,000 shekels ($179,000).

Residents of Silwan to be evicted by settler organization Ateret Cohanim in East Jerusalem, 2018. Credit: Emil Salman

“Since 2007 we have been in court with them, there is God in heaven and we will not lose with him. What can we do, we need to stay until the last breath,” said Mazen Dweik, the father. He is a dialysis patient and says that during his talks with Barak Weinberg, an employee of Ateret Cohanim, he was offered help in receiving a kidney for a transplant, in addition to money for the family if they left the building without resistance.

The Dweik family is one of dozens of Palestinian families living in the Batan al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem. The neighborhood was built in the area of the “Yemenite Village,” a Jewish neighborhood founded in the 19th century and which lasted until the Arab Revolt in 1938, when the British Mandate government evicted the Jews from the neighborhood.

About 20 years ago Ateret Cohanim took control of the Benvenisti religious trust, a historic Jewish trust that is registered as the owner of the land, and began legal proceedings against the families to living there for years. Ateret Cohanim has managed to remove a number of Palestinian families and Jewish families moved in. Dozens of lawsuits are still pending.

A new heritage center for Yemenite Jewry is planned for the neighborhood at a cost of 4 million shekels. Two years ago, the Supreme Court denied a petition attacking the government’s action on the matter. The justices criticized the government and Ateret Cohanim, but still denied the petition.

In recent weeks, the registrar of religious trusts in the Justice Ministry has opened an examination concerning the Benvenisti trust and the links between it and Ateret Cohanim, but these steps have not stopped the legal proceedings against the Palestinian residents.

The settlers in Jerusalem have won other victories in recent weeks in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Proceedings are underway there against dozens of Palestinian families who are said to be living on property that was Jewish-owned before 1948. A month and a half ago, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled in favor of the Nahalat Shimon company and ordered the eviction of 25 people from four families. The Palestinians were also ordered to pay 260,000 shekels in court costs and attorney’s fees to the settlers.

The home of the Sabag family in Sheikh Jarrah, November 24, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

In addition, the judge took the unusual step of ordering the police to aid in the evictions. At the beginning of the month the court denied a request form the Sabag family, with 32 members, to postpone the carrying out of a court ruling against them to leave the building. In both cases they appealed to the district court to prevent the evictions. The land in Sheikh Jarrah, near the grave of Shimon Hatzaddik, was bought by the Jewish community in Jerusalem in the 19th century.

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said she feared the settlers would try to move up the evictions before President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House, and avoid a diplomatic incident with the new administration. “I’m not sure Biden can stop it, but I hope it will at least be on his agenda.”

Avraham Moshe Segal, the lawyer for the Benvenisti Trust said that “despite the fact that the Dweik family is trespassing on the trust’s land, they were offered – time after time, above and beyond the letter of the law – to leave the property they are holding in return for monetary compensation that would allow them a proper place to live elsewhere. Similar offers were made to all the trespassers on the trust’s land.”

Segal said that because of heavy pressure from outside groups, including the Palestinian Authority, they have turned down the offers.

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