The Abu Nab family received an order from the Execution Office to evict its house by August 11th, 2015. The court ruled that the house in Batan Al-Hawa in Silwan, where the family has been living for decades, should be handed over to settlers, based on Jewish ownership of the property from late 19th century. Three months ago, settlers entered other parts of the house.
Previous experience shows that the eviction of a Palestinian family and the entrance of settlers to houses in Silwan require special security arrangements and police protection. The Government can prevent the eviction by not providing police protection, as was done in the past.
The case of the Abu Nab family is part of a large scheme that includes legal proceedings against dozens of families in Bata Al-Hawa, threatening the eviction of hundreds of people from the crowded neighborhood in Silwan, and allowing for the expansion of the settlement there from a couple of isolated houses into a much larger compound with many more settlers.
In September of 2002, the General Custodian released two parcels in Batan Al-Hawa and sold another four to settlers affiliated with Ateret Cohamin, an organization which establishes settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. The properties given to the settlers by the Custodian amount to approximately five dunams and are located in a densely populated Palestinian neighborhood, where hundreds of Palestinians live.
Two weeks ago, the settlers filed two new lawsuits demanding the eviction of five Palestinian families from two houses, in addition to their previous lawsuit demanding the eviction of seven other families from the Rajabi House. There are approximately 30 families currently under threat of eviction in different court proceedings with a potential of new lawsuits against dozens of more families, all based on the same legal claim of ownership from before 1948.
It is important to note that in the past year settlers affiliated with Ateret Cohanim managed to double their presence in the Batan Al-Hawa neighborhood in Silwan: in addition to Beit Yehonatan and the Beit Hadvash, which have been in their control for the past decade, they took over two large houses north of Beit Yehonatan, and three months ago,entered parts of the Abu Nab Family home.
Peace Now: As opposed to instances in which the houses are purchased from Palestinians in one way or another, this ruling demonstrates cooperation between government authorities, mainly the General Custodian, and the settlers, leading them to overtake the lands. Instead of taking a moderating and responsible position, the authorities prefer to exercise their power to help expel Palestinians from their homes and create settlement-related provocations that cost the taxpayers a great deal of money, increase the tension in Jerusalem and distance the possibility for peace.
The Mechanism of the Settlement: Right of Return and Help of the Government
The lawsuit against the Abu Nab family is based on a mechanism through which settlers took over dozens of properties in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, in Sheikh Jarrah and in other areas. According to a law from 1970, Jews who owned properties in East Jerusalem, which they lost during the 1948 war, are able to get their property back from the General Custodian. This law does not apply to properties owned by Palestinians, and Palestinians who lost their properties in West Jerusalem in 1948 cannot get their properties back. (as a side note, all of the Jews who lost properties in 1948 received alternative properties as compensation, and the Palestinians, needless to say, did not.)
Throughout the years, the settlers managed to get properties from the General Custodian by way of representing the inheritors, by purchasing rights from them or by obtaining control through various endowments.
The General Custodian’s Gift to the Settlers
At the end of the 19th century the Benvenisti family established the Benvenisti endowment, which included two plots at the Yemenite neighborhood in Silwan (plots 95 and 96). In 1946 the endowment rented the plots to Palestinians and in 1948 the whole area moved to Jordanian control. Under the Jordanian rule new houses were built on the plots and Palestinians resided in them. In 1967 Israel annexed the area and the control over Jewish properties from before 1948 moved to the General Custodian.
According to testimonies exposed through legal proceedings taken by the settlers against Palestinians in Batan Al-Hawa, the General Custodian did not handle these until the 1990s, following a request by people affiliated to Ateret Cohanim.
In January 2001, Jerusalem’s District Court appointed three Ateret Cohanim affiliates – Rabbi Ralbag, Avraham Sheferman and Mordechai Zarbiv – as Benvenisti Endowment Trustees. In September 2002, the General Custodian released the two Benvenisti Endowment plots to the Endowment Trustees, rendering them its owners.
In addition to the two Benvenisti Endowment plots, the General Custodian held other plots owned by Jews in Silwan’s Yemenite neighborhood. In December 2005, the General Custodian sold four additional plots to the Benvenisti Endowment trustees (plots 74, 75, 84, 90), apparently in return for several tens of thousands of shekels, without a bidding process.
If the General Custodian had indeed wanted to sell the properties in good faith, he should have published a tender and offered the Palestinians residing there the right to purchase them. Instead however, the General Custodian secretly transferred four plots housing dozens or even hundreds of Palestinians in Batan Al-Hawa to the hands of settlers, who seek to evict the Palestinians who reside there and bring in more settlers instead.