The Supreme Court Ordered the Eviction of a Palestinian Family from Batan Al-Hawa

The Shhadeh family from Batan al-Hawa in Silwan has filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Justice this week through attorneys Yazeed Kawar and Michael Sfard. They challenged a decision by the Supreme Court from about a month ago, which ruled that they must vacate their four-story home in favor of settlers affiliated with the Ateret Cohanim organization by June 1, 2024. This decision was made by Judge Noam Solberg, who summarily rejected the family’s request for leave to appeal. The family claims that the court did not seek their response to the settlers’ applications in the case, leading to a flaw in the court’s decision-making process, as their voices were not heard before the decision, contrary to procedural rules. However, yesterday (26/5/24) the Court outright rejected the petition.

Peace Now: “The Shhadeh family is one of 100 families under immanent threat of eviction in Batan Al-Hawa. “This is a political move, under the guise of legal proceedings, for the forcible displacement of a Palestinian community and its replacement by settlers in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. In addition to the severe damage to the chances for peace and a two-state solution, the injustice of throwing out families who have lived in their homes for decades without any competing claim, in the name of pre-1948 ownership while Palestinians cannot claim their pre-1948 ownership – is crying out to heaven. The responsibility to prevent the injustice lies with the government. It must determine that if settlers have rights to properties from before 1948, they should be compensated for them, not to have the right to evict families who have lawfully purchased the property and lived there for decades.”

The meaning of the rejecting of Shhadeh’s petition is that as for now, all legal moves have been exhausted and that the family needs to evict its 4 floors home by the end of this week, June 1st, 2024. If the family does not evict willingly, the settlers will file procedures with the Execution Office, who will set time for forcibly evicting them, in coordination with the police. However, it is still possible to prevent the eviction! It is first and foremost a political move and the Government has several tools to prevent it. 

The matter is not legal but political; the government can stop the eviction

The settlers have an interest in presenting the issue as a purely legal matter, of two parties arguing over ownership of the property and the court deciding. But denial and blindfolding are needed to ignore the context and mechanism established to exploit discriminatory laws for the purpose of realizing settlement political goals. This is a political issue with far-reaching implications for the entire State of Israel and the future of the conflict, and the court is only the tool to implement the move. Therefore, the Israeli government has a responsibility and an obligation to intervene.

1. To express a legal position in the Batan Alhawa cases – the court asked the state to submit its position on several occasions in the Batan Al-Hawa cases. The government could express a legal position according to which the residents of Batan Al-Hawa have rights to continue to live in their homes even though the official ownership belongs to settlers. This position can be based, for example, on international law, which is part of the system of legal considerations in Israel – see the legal opinion submitted on the matter.

2. The government can expropriate the land – the government can expropriate the land for public purposes (while compensating the settlers). Since 1967, the Israeli government has expropriated about a third of East Jerusalem lands to build 55,000 housing units for Israelis. What was done for the benefit of the Israeli public with the expropriation of more than 20,000 dunams from Palestinians, can be done for the benefit of the Palestinian residents of Batan Al-Hawa with the expropriation of 5 dunams from settlers.

3. Change in legislation and policy – the Knesset can correct the injustice caused as a result of the discriminatory law by amending or repealing the relevant sections of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law (1970) on the basis of which all these eviction claims were filed.

4. The immediate way to prevent eviction is to avoid sending the police to assist in evacuation. Without the police, people cannot be evicted from their homes. It is the police who determine the appropriate timing for carrying out various tasks in accordance with the security situation and considerations of public peace. The police can determine that for now, for reasons of security and public safety, the evacuation should be avoided. Such a position has been taken in the past and obtained the approval of the Attorney General (in 1991 when the police prevented the Elad settlers from entering houses in Silwan, and in 1999 in an Attorney General opinion on a property in Ras Al-Amoud). see more here.

Palestinian residents of Batan Al-Hawa, Silwan, 2018. All of them are under threat of eviction. Photo: Emil Salman, Haaretz.

The Background for the Petition

In November 2022, after a lengthy legal process, the District Court rejected the Shhadeh family’s appeal and ruled that they must vacate their home. The family filed a request for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. Judge Noam Solberg, who received the case, decided on 18/6/23 to await for the position of the Attorney General requested by the court in a similar eviction case in Batan al-Hawa. Meantime in the other case, the State requested many extensions from the court and the position of the Attorney General has not been submitted yet. In the months that have passed since Judge Solberg’s decision, and while waiting for the position of the Attorney General, the lawyer of the settlers, Avi Segal, submitted six requests to the court to expedite the decision and rule on the case without waiting any longer. Adv. Segal did not present the requests to the Shhadeh family’s lawyer who learned about them only in retrospect, after the court had made decisions on them.

On 11/4/24, following the settlers’ sixth request, Judge Solberg decided not to wait any longer for the Attorney General’s position, and determined that the family must vacate their home where they had lived for decades. The decision was made without seeking the family’s position, and without their lawyer even knowing about the settlers’ request. The family submitted a motion for reconsideration, but Judge Solberg rejected it as well. Last week the family has filed a petition to the High Court of Justice against Solberg’s decision (To read the text of the petition (in Hebrew), see here). Yesterday, 26/5/24, the court outright rejected the petition.

The lawsuit against the Shhadeh family is part of a series of dozens of eviction lawsuits filed by people from Ateret Cohanim settlers group against some 84 Palestinian families living in Batan al-Hawa in Silwan, putting a community of c. 700 people in danger of being evicted. The settlers’ claims are based on the fact 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 who built their homes lawfully on that land after 1948.

Since 2015, 14 families have been evacuated this way from Batan al-Hawa. Against about 80 additional families, various eviction procedures are underway, against about 100 residents, the Magistrate’s Court has already ruled on eviction and they are in appeal procedures.

One Law for Israelis; Another one for Palestinians

The basis for all the lawsuits is the same: the Legal and Administrative Matters Law enacted in 1970 by the Knesset stated that Jews who owned property in East Jerusalem and lost it in 1948 can receive it back from the Israeli General Custodian, even though all those Jewish property owners received alternative homes from the state as early as 1948. This is in contrast to the Absentees’ Properties Law from 1950, which states that Palestinians who lost their property in Israel in 1948 and became refugees would not be entitled to receive it back. Since the Legal and Administrative Matters Law was applied only in East Jerusalem and not in West Jerusalem, it only applies to Jews and not to Palestinians who lost their property in the same war and under similar circumstances.

For more information on the Legal and Administrative Matters Law – see here.
For more on the eviction procedures – see here.

About two years ago, the Supreme Court prevented the eviction of the Duweik family and returned the case to a hearing in the Magistrate’s Court for further discussion on the question whether the Statute of Limitations applies to the lawsuit because so many years have passed since the Palestinians purchased the land and houses without any competing claim. In another case, in the lawsuit against the Shweiki and Odah families, which was discussed in the Supreme Court, Judge Fogelman asked the Attorney General in December 2022 to express her position on some of the issues raised in the case, but so far the state’s position on the issue has not been submitted.

In the Supreme Court’s decision from a few days ago to reject outright the Shhadeh family’s request for leave to appeal, Judge Solberg states that there is no longer any need to wait for the position of the Attorney General, and that there is also no need for the factual clarification regarding the Statute of Limitations as stipulated in the Duweik family’s appeal, and ordered the family to evict the house in less than two months until June 1, 2024.