The eviction of the Sumarin family from Silwan comes to a hearing in the Supreme Court on Monday 5/4/21

On Monday, 5/4/21 at 9:00 a.m., the Supreme Court will hear the Sumarin family’s appeal of the ruling ordering her eviction from her home in favor of the Jewish National Fund (the JNF, or KKL). Recently, it was revealed that the body behind the eviction claim is the settlers’ organization Elad, and that the JNF allowed it to use its name and status to hide the real plaintiffs from the court.

The Coalition for the Sumarin Family will hold a protest outside the Supreme Court at 8:30 a.m., at the corner of Zussman and Rabin streets (opposite the Cinema City).

A few months ago, 34 recipients of Israel Prize, 125 intellectuals, academics and world-renowned artists as well as others approached the JNF demanding that they avoid the injustice and leave the Sumarin family alone.

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 there 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”), but the assets themselves were not returned to the Palestinians.

Peace Now: This is a cruel story that shouldn’t have happened. KKL-Jewish National Fund has become a settler fund, exploiting a legal method that is stacked against Palestinians after scheming with the settlers to take over houses in Silwan. The use the  Absentees’ Properties Law based on questionable evidence to take Palestinian assets and give them to settlers was highly criticized by courts and government comities, but the families were left alone to fight in courts to save their homes. It is another example of a political move implemented by legal means, and the government can and should prevent it.

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 her 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 Musa Sumarin, the uncle of the Sumarin family who lives in the house, was absent.

It later became clear that Haj Musa Sumarin was not absent and he lived in Silwan until his death in 1983 (even a basic check in the population register was not done), but this did not prevent the Custodian of Absentees’ Properties from re-declaring the property as “Absentee’s Property” because Haj Musa’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 Musa. 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 Himnuta in 1991 and after it lost, and appealed, and again lost, it filed a new lawsuit. This time it won in the Magistrates’ Court and the District Court and now the issue is being brought before the Supreme Court. For 30 years the Sumarin family has been struggling to prevent its eviction, and now the danger of eviction is closer than ever.

It should by 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 huge area of control at the entrance to Silwan, dig additional archeological diggings, and further reduce the Palestinian presence in this sensitive area.

The Development of the Eviction Suit against the Sumarin Family

1991 – The JNF (Himanuta) 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 early 1980’s

1996 – In an appeal filed by Himanuta on the verdict (Civil Appeal 21/95), the District Court found that the declaration of 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 by virtue of an agreement or authority that can override Himanuta’s rights to the land.

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 appeal therefore was rejected.

1999 – The Sumarin family filed a claim in the District Court to declare ownership of the property based on the authority given them by the landlord to live in the property and on the basis of a purchase contract signed between him and the father of the family (Legal Proceeding 633/99). In the hearing, there were expert testimonies that placed doubt on the reliability of the purchase contract.

2004 – The Sumarin family decided to withdraw the lawsuit, with Justice M. Gal hinting in the ruling that the authenticity of the purchase contract is dubious.

2005 – Following the rejection of the Sumarin family’s claim, Himanuta returned and demanded the eviction of the family (Civil Claim 12797/05).

2006 – The Sumarin family did not respond to the claim, and therefore it was ruled that in the absence of a defense the family must be evicted from the house.

2011 – Himanuta waited five years to implement the ruling, but in 2011 it began executing proceedings and was determined to see the family be evicted in November of that year. The family, which first heard of the ruling given in absentia (without its presence) in 2006, submitted a request to the court to allow it to defend itself.

2013 – After the two parties entered into negotiations for the duration of a year, and after Himanuta asked to submit its response to the request, the court gave the Sumarin family an opportunity to defend itself, and the hearing on the eviction was reopened.

2018 – After preliminary proceedings came the stage of proof and various witnesses were heard in court.

20 September 2019 – The Magistrate’s Court issued a verdict to vacate the property.

30 June 2020 – The Sumarin family’s appeal to the District Court was rejected.

5 April 2021 – The Supreme Court will hear the family’s appeal in what seems to be the last legal chance.

For more on the absentees method – see the Peace Now report “Annex and Dispossess”

For more on the eviction lawsuit against the Sumarin family – see here.