The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled last week that the four families of the Abd al-Fatah Rajabi house in Batan Al-Hawa in Silwan should evacuate their homes in favor of settlers within six months. One of the family members, Qayed Rajabi, said this week: “We are 26 people in this house; we were born in this neighborhood, grew up in it, got married in it and had children in it. Now the court has ruled that we should leave by April 1st.”
The late Jaber Rajabi, the grandfather of the family, purchased the land in 1966 when the area was still under Jordanian control and built the house. However, the court ruled that since the land was owned by a Jewish sanctuary more than a century ago – the family must vacate the house. The family intends to appeal to the District Court.
The lawsuit is one of a series of dozens of eviction lawsuits filed by people from Ateret Cohanim settlers group against nearly 100 Palestinian families living in Batan al-Hawa in Silwan, putting a community of 700 people in danger of being evicted. The settlers’ claims are based on the claim that in the late 19th century the land was allocated by its Jewish owners to a Jewish trust for the benefit of the poor Yemenite Jews of Jerusalem. Today, in the name of the same trust, settlers seek to evict the Palestinian families and replace them with Israeli settlers.
Last January, the court ordered the eviction of 11 families with 67 people from Batan Al-Hawa, in three different lawsuits (the Nasser Rajabi family, the Duweik family and the Shweiki and Odeh families). All the families appealed to the district court and had to deposit tens of thousands of shekels in the court coffers to delay the eviction. No decisions have yet been made on these appeals.
Since 2015, 14 families have been evicted from Batan al-Hawa. Last week’s judgment, together with the three judgments from January, ordered the eviction of another 14 families with 93 persons. Another 70 families approximately are in courts in eviction cases.
For more information on the lawsuits and the assistance of the authorities to the settlers, see the Peace Now and Ir Amim report here.
Peace Now: “This is an attempt to displace a Palestinian community and to replace it with an Israeli one, in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The settlers could not have succeeded without the Israeli authorities’ close support and assistance. In addition to the hard blow to the prospects for a two-state solution by preventing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, this is an injustice and an act of cruelty to throw out families who have lived lawfully in their homes for decades.
For every dunam in East Jerusalem that was owned by Jews and had been lost in the 1948 war, there are tens of thousands of dunams in Israel that were owned by Palestinians who lost them in the 1948 war. The settlers’ demand to disposes the Palestinians based on pre-1948 ownership is a strategic threat on the moral justification of hundreds of thousands of Israelis living on lands that were owned by Palestinians.”
A Discriminatory Law: The Legal and Administrative Matters Law 1970
The Legal and Administrative Matters Law that was enacted by the Knesset in 1970 was legislated in order to deal with many different issues concerning the areas and people annexed to Jerusalem in 1967. One of those issues was the status of properties owned by Jews before 1948.
In the 1948 war, some 35,000 Palestinians fled or were forced to flee their homes in West Jerusalem, and about 2,000 Jews fled or were forced to flee East Jerusalem, mainly from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The Legal and Administrative Matters Law was intended to correct what it considered to be a historical injustice by restoring the property to its original Jewish owners. However the law was not applied to Palestinian properties. It turned out that in the same city, as a result of the same war, two populations lost properties but only one is entitled to repair the historical injustice and return to its property, while the second , which sometimes lives a few hundred meters from its properties, cannot return them. This is the original sin of the law and of the settlements in Batan al-Hawa.
An examination of the protocols of the legislative process indicates that the legislators viewed a situation in which Jews would be able to return vacant properties, while in cases where the properties were occupied, they would receive financial compensation. The legislators took into account the personal connection of a person to his property, but in practice, the law is being used by settlers who have nothing to do with the original owners. In the end, a mechanism was created by the government and the Custodian General to exploit the law in order to take control of Palestinian populated areas and to transfer them exclusively to settlers. This is a governmental action, and the attempt to present it as a personal conflict of property restitution is nothing more than feigning innocence. The individual right that the law sought to protect was made by the settlers and with the assistance of the government for the right of one collective (Jewish) at the expense of another collective (Palestinian).
The Government Assistance to the settlers
Assistance of the Custodian General – In Batan Al-Hawa, the Custodian General issued a certificate of release to the settlers who took over the management of the Jewish trust in 2002. In 2014 the settlers lost an eviction lawsuit against the Abu Nab family because they failed to prove the borders of their property. At the time between the verdict and the appeals hearing, the Custodian General issued a revised release certificate detailing the precise boundaries of the plot. With this new paper given by the Custodian, the settlers managed to win the appeal and the family was evicted from the house. This amended release certificate is being used by the settlers in all of their lawsuits in Batan Al-Hawa.
In addition, it turns out that in December 2005, the Custodian sold to the representatives of the Jewish trust four additional plots that were owned by other Jews in Batan Al-Hawa, without a tender and at a suspiciously low price. If the Custodian was indeed interested in selling the assets in good faith, he would have had to make a tender and offer the Palestinian residents of these properties the chance to purchase them. But instead, the Custodian quietly transferred four plots on which dozens or even hundreds of Palestinians live in the Batan Al-Hawah neighborhood to settlers who seek to evict the Palestinian residents and settle Jews there.
Granting Control of Jewish Trusts to Settlers – Through the years, settlers have been able to take control of many Jewish trusts from before 1948. This includes taking control over many properties in the Old City, and all the pending claims now against families in Batan Al-Hawa are settler claims in the name of a Jewish trust (The Benvenisti Trust) from the end of the 19th century, which was dedicated to provide residential units for poor Yemenite Jewish families. Many decades after the trust was abandoned, the Ateret Cohanim settler association appealed to the court and offered to administer the trust. The state supported the idea, although the interest represented by the settlers had nothing to do with the original purpose of the trust which was aiding the poor of Jerusalem in those days. Despite this, the court granted them control over the trust.
Recently, some Palestinian families from Batan Al-Hawa, together with Ir-Amim organization, filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Justice demanding that the settlers will no longer manage the Jewish trust. Their claim is that the settlers are taking advantage of the trust in order to fulfill their political and ideological goals without any connection to the original goals of the trust.
Police Assistance – The Israeli police are assisting settlers in many areas. In the past, there were cases where the police refused to help evacuate Palestinian families for security reasons. Today we see close cooperation with the settlers. Thus, for example, in October 2015, during a time of severe violence in Jerusalem when the police were very busy, police officers helped evict the Abu Nab family which involved imposing a curfew on the Batan Al-Hawa neighborhood.
Nir Hasson of Haaretz newspaper revealed that the police had also accompanied the settlers in threatening calls on tenants in an attempt to get them to leave the homes.