East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, October 21.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Government officials served two Palestinian families residing in east Jerusalem’s Silwan with eviction papers on Monday, after a judge ruled that the homes were illegally inhabited, Arab media reported.
According to Palestinian news and information agency, WAFA, the Rajabi and Basbous families in the neighborhood outside the Old City were informed that an unnamed Jewish NGO had proven in court that the homes were deemed as “absentee property.”
“Based on the 1950 Absentee Property Law, the land was transferred to governmental and semi-governmental agencies, such as the Jewish National Fund and Israel’s Land Administration, for the sole benefit of Jewish Israelis,” WAFA reported.
Such eviction decisions are not unprecedented, and follow a series of previously enforced rulings issued by Jerusalem courts determining that Palestinian homes in the contested neighborhood were illegally acquired.
“On August 5, Israeli police asked two east Jerusalem Palestinian families, Sabri and Abdullah Abu-Nab, to leave their homes under the pretext of absentee ownership,” WAFA noted. “Israel has instituted a series of mandatory laws, regulations and policies to legalize the confiscation of Palestinian lands and property, and prevent them from returning to their homes.”
“Under this law, Palestinian refugees and the internally displaced are regarded as ‘present absentees’ – designations which authorized ‘legal’ confiscation of their land – the implication being that the majority of Palestinian lands were lost.”
The Absentee Property Law, which was reaffirmed by the High Court in April, was initially enacted following the mass influx of Jews into the country after statehood was announced in 1948.
Secretary General of the Islamic-Christian Committee to Support Occupied Jerusalem and Holy Sites, Hanna Essa, denounced the court’s decision, claiming that the properties in question belong to thousands of indigenous Arab and Palestinian residents who were forced out following the 1948 and 1967 wars.
“By classifying every citizen or persons present in an ‘enemy’ territory or country as an ‘absentee’ vis-à-vis property in Israel, the law has served to confiscate the land and real estate left behind by the Palestinians who were forcibly displaced in 1948,” the Palestinian grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign stated.
“Most Palestinians in the occupied territories became de facto ‘absentees’ with regard to property in East Jerusalem, which was unilaterally and illegally annexed by Israel in 1967.”
In March, Jewish and Arab activists led a demonstration in the capital protesting the evictions of two Palestinian families who were forced from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City after decades, under the law’s pretext.
Still, Jewish NGOs, including the Elad Foundation, a rightwing organization that uses funds from Jewish supporters in the US and elsewhere to buy residences in Arab districts, have repeatedly won court rulings that targeted Palestinian homes that were proven to be misappropriated.
In January, following a protracted and contentious legal dispute over the rightful ownership of such an east Jerusalem property in the City of David National Park, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled against an Arab family that sought an injunction against Elad.
In her ruling, Judge Tamar Bar-Asher-Zaban dismissed the claim and said Elad had followed legal protocols in gaining ownership of the contested residence.
“Not only did the plaintiffs hide information from the court, but it has also been determined that the plaintiffs do not possess any legal right whatsoever to the property in question and, as such, had no right to seek an injunction,” Bar-Asher- Zaban said.
The court further ruled that the plaintiffs must pay Elad’s legal expenses.
It remains unclear when the Rajabi and Basbous families will be evicted by the state, or if an appeal has been filed.