The Israel Land Fund rejected a compromise from the High Court of Justice on
Monday to resolve an appeal of a 2012 district court decision to evict an east
Jerusalem Arab family from Beit Merivah in Sheikh Jarrah.
simple ownership lawsuit for the Shamasna family, filed in 2009, is one of the
frontline battles between groups of Palestinians and Jews over the future
character and identity of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
The case also
took a bizarre turn with both sides debating as to why the Trustee of the
Justice Ministry, who was at the very least joined as a party to the case, did
not show for the hearing.
The family accused the Fund of misrepresenting
the case to the lower court by claiming it had filed the lawsuit on behalf of
the Justice Ministry.
After the Six Day War, the Trustee’s office – which
is connected to the Justice Ministry but also operates independently – was
charged with the responsibility for administering certain properties which were,
or might have been, Jewish properties prior to the war of 1948.
compromise, the court implicitly recognized that the Fund held legal ownership
rights to the disputed residence by suggesting that the family be allowed to
remain as long as the eldest family members were alive, as long as they paid
rent to the Fund and their descendants (who also currently live there) committed
to leaving when the elderly family members are deceased.
family members claim to have lived at the residence since 1964 and have
succeeded until now in delaying eviction. In recent years, groups of right-wing
Jewish activists have been using legal actions to evict or retake residences in
These legal actions have led to significant turmoil,
demonstrations by east Jerusalem Arabs and left-wing Jewish activists, and
general tension in the area.
Several Knesset members participated in
demonstrations against the eviction action on Monday.
Jabarah said that the Shamasna family had two central legal claims and one more
general claim regarding justice.
One, that the lower court decision had
been unduly influenced to lean in the Fund’s direction by the Fund’s alleged
misrepresentation that they were suing on behalf of the Trustee. Two, that the
family are protected tenants and can not be evicted.
Also, Jabarah said
that it was simply unjust to forcibly evict a family of multiple generations
that had lived in the residence since 1964 in favor of others who currently live
The Fund’s lawyer, Avi Segal, hotly disputed both
Segal said that the Fund had approval from the Trustee to file
the lawsuit and that in any case, the issue was not relevant since with or
without the Trustee, the Fund had proven its ownership of the
The Trustee did not provide any fodder to the Shamasna’s
claims on this count, stating that “the eviction lawsuit was filed by the
inheritors after their rights to the residence was recognized [by the Trustee.]”
Further, “permission from the Trustee was required since the procedural release”
of the property to the Fund was still pending regarding procedural issues, such
as payment of certain technical fees.
Therefore, regardless of how
accurate Segal’s wording was to the lower court, the Trustee’s Office had
approved of the Fund’s ownership and of the process to take
Next, Segal said that the Shamasna’s lease specifically said
that they were not protected tenants, leaving them no defense.
there, the sides debated whether the Shamasna’s had understood the lease or
whether they had been misled for decades to think that the tenancy was protected
and whether the low-rent paid by the family indicated, in and of itself, a
There was also a debate as to when the Shamasna’s
started to live in the residence, with Segal claiming a much later date, which
would in turn reduce their potential defenses for trying to stay.
claimed that the Fund’s right to the property that dates back to 1948, and only
being forced to leave during the war, made it the first owner and that the
Shamasna’s moving into the property was invalid, or at least stopped them from
A spokeswoman for Peace Now said that this was a
dangerous argument for Jewish-Israelis to make and could backfire and “hurt
She said that we don’t believe that “Palestinians or Jews”
should have the “right to return” at this point to disputed areas “where they
were forced out from before the war of 1948.”
She added that just as
Palestinians “should accept compensation” and not try en masse to return to
Israel, the Fund should be ready to accept compensation in the form of rent, as
suggested by the court.
The spokesman said that she was not sure how the
court would rule as “both sides had been asked hard questions and the case was
not clear-cut,” but that she hoped she could be optimistic in that the court had
not rejected the appeal out of hand, but had pushed to hear substantive
arguments for both sides.
The Fund did not respond to inquiries by press
The court did not render a decision at the hearing nor did it
announce a date for its decision.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!