An Israeli court ruled this week that a Palestinian family may stay in its home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan until a final ruling on the Jewish National Fund’s demand to evacuate it is made.
The Sumreen family case is the latest case that left-wing groups are holding up as evidence of a growing cooperation between the JNF and settler organizations in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
After a 30-year legal battle, the JNF in September was granted ownership of the family’s home by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, but the family appealed the ruling and asked to remain in the house until the case is settled.
Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp rejected the JNF’s claim that the Sumreens shouldn’t be allowed to stay and its argument that the family's appeal is unlikely to be accepted. However, Lomp demanded that the family present a 30,000-shekel ($8,6000) guarantee.
The JNF, backed by settler group Elad, claims that one of the family’s ancestors was an “absentee,” i.e., a civilian who lived in an enemy country, as a result of which his property was confiscated by the state – which then sold it to the JNF. Magistrate Court Judge Miriam Kaslassy accepted in September the JNF’s claim of ownership on this basis.
In response, the JNF said that "KKL-JNF acts and will continue to act in a professional manner in regard to its property, and insists on its lawful rights over lands that it owns, just as the court rouled, regardless of race, gender or religion."
After the family of 18 appealed to the Jerusalem District Court to prevent their evacuation before a final ruling is reached, the JNF, stressing it operates “in a professional and unbiased manner,” claimed the family has other properties in the city, and therefore would not be harmed by the evacuation of their Silwan home.
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The first suit seeking the family’s eviction was filed by JNF subsidiary Himnuta in 1991. It was based solely on the determination that the father of the family, Musa Sumreen, was an absentee, and the family won.
The family then filed its own suit, seeking to be declared the property’s owner. But that suit was rejected in 1999 because the family failed to prove it had purchased the property.
Meanwhile, the state determined that Sumreen’s children were also absentees, prompting Himnuta to file a new suit in 2005. Himnuta won that suit, but in 2011 the verdict was vacated on the grounds that family members hadn’t been aware of the legal proceedings against them. The most recent suit was filed in 2017.
Left-wing critics have recently been attacking the JNF, claiming that it has turned into an operational unit of settler organizations. Several months ago, a Palestinian family living on ground owned by the JNF near Bethlehem was evacuated following a request by the organization.
Several days afterward, a settler outpost was set up in the same spot. The JNF says it is only acting to protect its property.