Ahead of the fateful hearing in the Supreme Court, the JNF insists on kicking the Sumarin family out of their home in Silwan

On June 29, at 9:00, a critical hearing is expected to take place in the Supreme Court, which will decide whether the Sumarin family from Silwan can stay in their home where they have lived for more than 40 years or should they be evicted in favor of the Elad settler organization. The eviction lawsuit was filed many years ago by the Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL) for the Elad settler organization, and is based on the abuse of the Absentees’ Properties Law. The family lost both in the Magistrate Court and the District Court, and now its appeal is to be heard at the Supreme Court, in what seams to be the last and decisive legal stage. 

Ahead of the hearing, the JNF submitted its response to the court in which, along with the legal claims, the JNF seeks to defame the family before the court (see below). 

Peace Now: “The JNF is exposed here in all its cruelty, applying deceitful methods against a family whose only sin is that their home is located in an area that the Elad settler organization is interested in. Back in the 1990s, The JNF was involved in the crime of theft of properties through the abuse of the Absentees’ Property Law. But even today, after the court dismissed their claims years ago, the JNF continues to demand the family’s eviction in ugly and cruel ways. The JNF has long since forgotten the goals for which it was founded and turned itself into the Settler National Fund.”

About two years ago, 34 recipients of the Israeli Prize and 125 intellectuals, academics, and artists worldwide, addressed the JNF demanding that the Sumarin family not be evicted and respect their right to live a normal life in their own home. However, the JNF insists on continuing the eviction lawsuit. 

Background: The eviction lawsuit against the Sumarin Family

The Sumarin family fell victim to a vicious system developed by Likud government officials in the 1980s, along with settler organizations and the Jewish National Fund, according to which the settlers and the JNF initiated a declaration of properties in Silwan as “absentees’ properties,” and then these properties were transferred to the JNF and from the JNF to the settlers. The method was exposed and stopped by the Rabin government, which set up a commission of inquiry into the matter (the “Klugman Commission”). However, the assets themselves were not returned to the Palestinians.

And this is how the method worked in the case of the Sumarin family:

In 1987, the Custodian of Absentees’ Properties declared the Sumarin family home as an absentee property, behind the back of the Sumarin family and without their knowledge. The Custodian based his declaration on an affidavit he received at the initiative of the JNF and the settlers, according to which the landlord, Haj Mussa Sumarin, the uncle of the Sumarin family who lives in the house, was absent.

It later became clear that Haj Mussa Sumarin was not absent, and he lived in Silwan until he died in 1983 (even a quick check in the Population Registry was not done), but this did not prevent the Custodian of Absentees’ Properties to insist and re-declare the property as “Absentee’s Property” because Haj Mussa’s sons were absent. This declaration was also made without checking whether the sons were truly absent and whether they were the sole heirs of Mussa. The property was then transferred from the Custodian to the Development Authority and from there to the JNF. The JNF has signed a confidential agreement with the Elad Association, according to which the association will provide legal representation in the eviction lawsuit, and in return, will receive the house.

The lawsuit against the Sumarin family was first filed by the JNF through its subsidiary Heimanuta in 1991 and after it lost – and appealed, and again lost – in 2005 it filed a new lawsuit. This time, they managed to win in the Magistrates’ Court and the District Court, and now the issue is being brought before the Supreme Court. For more than 30 years, the Sumarin family has been struggling to prevent its eviction, and now the danger of eviction is closer than ever.

It should be mentioned that the Sumarin house is a strategic property located just tens of meters from the Al-Aqsa Mosque and adjacent to which the settlers of the Elad Association established the “City of David” visitor center. Taking over this property will allow the Elad Association to complete a massive area of control at the entrance to Silwan, extend the archeological excavations, and further reduce the Palestinian presence in this sensitive area.

The chain of events in the 30 years since the first JNF lawsuit was filed in 1991:

1950’s – Haj Mussa Sumarin builds his house in Silwan

1983 – Haj Mussa Sumarin passes away, and his Nephew Mouhamad Sumarin and his family who lived with Haj Mussa in the house and took care of him, inheres the house.

1987 – The JNF together with KKL plots to declare the house as Absentees’ Property, the Custodian for Absentees’ Properties agrees and then transfers the ownership of the property to the JNF behind the back of the Sumarins.

1991 – The JNF (Heimanuta) submits an eviction claim against the Sumarin family (Civil Claim, 5980/91).

1994 – Judge Yehudit Tzur rules that the declaration of the property as “absentee property” was made unlawfully, and therefore the claim for eviction is denied. It turned out the person who was declared “absentee,” Mussa Sumarin, lived all his life in Silwan until he died in the early 1980s.

1996 – In an appeal filed by Heimanuta on the verdict (Civil Appeal 21/95), the District Court found that the declaration of the property as an “absentee property” was valid (because the sons of the “absentee” Mussa Sumarin lived abroad and they are considered absentees), but sent the case back to the Magistrate Court to determine whether the Sumarin family has rights to the property under an agreement or authority that can override Heimanuta’s rights to the property.

1999 – The Magistrate Court (Justice Rafi Strauss) ruled that the Sumarin family had a right to the property by virtue of a permission the family got from the original owner and by a purchase agreement signed between the landlord and the father of the family. Heimanuta’s appeals were thereafter rejected.

1999 – The Sumarin family filed a claim in the District Court to declare ownership of the property but was rejected.

2005 – Heimanuta returned and filed a new eviction lawsuit against the Sumarin family (Civil Claim 12797/05). The case took many years, and on September 20, 2019 the Magistrate’s Court accepted the lawsuit and ruled that the Sumarin family should vacate their home.

2020 – On June 30, 2020, the appeal of the Sumarin family to the District Court was rejected. The family filed a request to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

2021 – The main question in the appeal is whether the ruling from 1999 that the family had permission to stay at home can be overturned today, after changes in the circumstances, or not. The Supreme Court decided to seek the opinion of the Attorney General on the matter.

2022 – In January this year, the government sent the Attorney General to support the eviction of the family and argue that due to a change in circumstances since the 1999 ruling, it is now okay to override that ruling to allow the eviction of the family.

Last month, the latest statements were submitted by the parties ahead of the expected hearing on 29/6/22.

The Cruel and Cold response of the JNF defaming the Sumarin family

Ahead of the hearing at the Supreme Court in June 2022, the JNF submitted its response to the court in which, along with the legal claims, the JNF seeks to defame the family before the court. In the response, the JNF asks to re-submit claims it had already sought to raise in a previous proceeding, but was denied. Their intention is to portray the Sumarin family as manipulative, well established owning many properties who tries to mislead the court. This way, the JNF seeks to convince the court that the eviction will not harm the family. The JNF argues that they were able to find documents that indicate that one of the members of the Sumarin family owns another property in Silwan. Thus, says the JNF, the Sumarin family has a place to go, and they will not be “thrown out onto the streets” if evicted from their home.

The truth is that the fact that one family member has a property somewhere, does not mean that “the family” owns it and has a place to go. Furthermore, even if it was true that the family owned other properties, it does not make the dispossession of the family from its home more moral. The JNF is taking a property which is owned by the Sumarins. The only way they managed to take it “legally” is thanks to a manipulative use of a discriminatory law (the Absentees’ Properties Law) that was hijacked by settlers and their friends in the government in the 1980’s in what led to a criminal investigation and a government special investigative committee.  

Adding insult to injury, the JNF in its responds also claims that the Sumarins “should not have the right to get compensations” because the Sumarin family, according to the JNF, has been illegally using their home for years. The issue of compensations was not on the table in this case, but the JNF had to make clear how cruel and cold it is.