Two weeks after entering the Abu Nab Family home in Silwan, the settlers filed a claim to the Jerusalem Magistrate Court on Tuesday, 19 May 2015, demanding the eviction of the Rajbi Family home, housing seven Palestinian families of 39 members.
The claim is part of a large scheme in which settlers affiliated with Ateret Cohanim – which establishes settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in Easte Jerusalem – have managed, with government support, to take over ~1.2 acres in six different plots of the Batan Alhawa neighborhood, where hundreds of Palestinians live in very crowded conditions, and they may take legal measures to evict other Palestinian families.
Over the last year, Ateret Cohanim settlers managed to double their holdings in Silwan’s Batan Alhawa neighborhood (AKA Central Silwan or Harat Al-Yaman) where, 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, two weeks ago, entered 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 takeover 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 chance for peace.
Taking over the Silwan Plots: Realizing the Jews’ “Right of Return”
The claim for the eviction of a 4-story building housing 7 Palestinian families, which was filed this week, is based on the fact that the settlers have managed to obtain ownership of property owned by Jews prior to 1948, which is now being returned to Jewish hands. The Israeli law, passed in 1970, enables Jews to repossess properties in East Jerusalem that they lost during the war in 1948. There is no such law that allow similar rights to the thousands of Palestinians who lost their property in what became Israel during the 1948 war. It is important to note that all Jews who lost their property in 1948 have already been compensated by the government, usually in the form of alternate assets. Therefore, whenever Jews wish to realize the right of return to Jewish property, they actually impair the Israeli argument against realizing the right of return for Palestinians.
The Benvenisti Endowment (Plots 95 and 96)
The Jewish Benvenisti Family established the Benvenisti Endowment in the late 19th century, including plots in Silwan’s Yemenite neighborhood. In 1946, the Endowment rented the plots to Palestinians and following the 1948 war, the entire area was ruled by Jordan.
Several houses were built on the plots under Jordanian rule and Palestinians moved in. In 1967, Israel annexed the area to Jerusalem and control of pre-1948 Jewish property was transferred to the Israeli General Custodian.
According to testimonies compiled in legal proceedings that the settlers took against Palestinians in Batan Alhawa, the Israeli General Custodian did not address these plots for years, and only in the 1990’s, pursuant to an Ateret Cohanim request, had he began to deal with them.
Settlers take over Ownership of the Endowment
In an effort to take over assets in East Jerusalem, the settlers sought out properties held by Jews before 1948 and took measures to take them over. Many of the properties in East Jerusalem, and mostly the Old City, belonged to endowments, and the rabbinical and civil courts appointed settler allies as trustees thereto.
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.
It is based on this ownership that the settlers, in 2006, demanded the eviction of the Abu Nab Family home, parts of which they entered two weeks ago and, in 2007, sued the Duwiek family in a nearby building.
The General Custodian sells the settlers additional plots without a bid (Plots 73, 75, 84, 97)
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, assumedly in consideration of several tens of thousands of NIS, without a bid process.
It became clear that, in this case, not only did the General Custodian enable the settlers to obtain the rights to the properties, but even aided them, presumably unlawfully, in obtaining additional properties in Silwan. If the General Custodian had indeed wanted to sell the properties in good faith, he should have published a bid and offered the Palestinians residing therein the right to purchase them. Instead however, the General Custodian clandestinely transferred four plots housing dozens or even hundreds of Palestinians in Batan Alhawa to the hands of the settlers.