Right-wing activists seal room in east J’lem home

Three Hamdallah family members evicted as part of long legal battle while 17 others remain in house.

Activist with barbed wire to block room in e.J'lem home 370 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Activist with barbed wire to block room in e.J'lem home 370
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Right-wing activists sealed off one room in the Hamdallah family home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras el-Amud on Sunday, the first step in an attempt to force the family out of their home in order to build an expansion to the Jewish compound of Ma’aleh Hazeitim.
There was no violence on Sunday as the three people who lived in the room – Ahmed Hamdallah, his wife and two-year-old son – had previously relocated to a rented apartment in Silwan ahead of the eviction. On Sunday morning, right-wing activists, guarded by a private security detail, nailed metal sheeting over the doorway and used barbed wire to prevent anyone from entering the room where they had lived. Seventeen members of the Hamdallah family live in rest of the house.
The eviction was the legal result of a 17-year-long court battle between the Hamdallah family and American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, who has purchased hundreds of dunams of Jewish apartments in east Jerusalem and the Old City for development. Ten dunans equals 1 hectare.
The land containing the Ma’aleh Hazeitim compound and the Hamdallah family home originally belonged to the Chabad Kollel, who purchased it in 1886 from the Ottomans for use as a cemetery.
In 1948, the kollel lost the land when Jordan controlled east Jerusalem. Jordanians gave the land to the local mukhtar (community leader), who sold it to the Hamdallah family. The Hamdallah family built a home there and moved in 1952.
Following the 1967 Six Day War, the kollel mounted a successful legal campaign to reclaim the land. The courts agreed with its claim and the ownership reverted back to the Chabad Kollel.
In 1992, the kollel sold the land to Moskowitz, who developed the Ma’aleh Hazeitim complex with the support of the Ateret Cohanim Foundation.
Ateret Cohanim has cooperated with Moskowitz on a number of different Jewish housing projects, and supports Jews living in the Old City's Muslim Quarter as well as Silwan.
Ma’aleh Hazeitim is one of the largest Jewish compounds in predominantly Arab neighborhoods, with 110 apartment units, including penthouses that sell for more than NIS 7 million.
Starting in 1995, Moskowitz mounted a number of legal attempts to evacuate the entire Hamdallah family from their home. The case went all the way to the High Court of Justice, and on July 21, 2005, Judge Yitzhak Shimoni accepted the Hamdallah family’s claim that they had purchased the land and ruled they could stay in the original building. However, he ruled that the family could be evicted from any additions made to the building, including one room in the main house and two sheds in the corners of the property.
After this ruling, Moskowitz launched another legal campaign in order to evict the family from this room and the courtyard of the property, claiming these were additions to the original building. Three weeks ago, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that Moskowitz could evict the family in that room after September 1.
The current plan is to build a fence through the Hamdallah’s courtyard that leads to the one room, and possibly have a Jewish family move into it.
“The idea is not just the eviction, it is another step in harassing the family so they won’t want to stay there,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher with Ir Amim, a left-wing activist group. Tatarsky explained that hounding the family is Moskowitz’s only option as the legal procedures have failed. “At any moment, this could blow up,” he said.
“It’s a very sensitive area where they’re doing things, and they could end with violence.”
Ma’aleh Hazeitim resident Aryeh King, who is involved in other Jewish residential projects in east Jerusalem with his organization Israel Land Fund, expressed optimism on Sunday that his apartment compound will eventually expand into the Hamdallah’s property. The plan is to build dozens of additional units for Jewish families.
“We are not going to give up on what belongs to us,” he said. He highlighted the fact that the courts have clearly awarded ownership of the land to Moskowitz, even though the home has special legal status, as proof that the Jewish ownership will eventually prevail.
Members of the Hamdallah family watched calmly on Sunday as right-wing activists cleared out debris from the room and brought bales of barbed wire to prevent entry.
The right-wing activists cannot build a fence through the courtyard until they receive the proper permit from the municipality, after the Ir Amim organization filed a complaint with the city’s building code enforcement department on Sunday afternoon.
Members of the family said the action was not a surprise and they had been informed a few weeks ago. Khaled Hamdallah, Ahmed’s brother and the patriarch of the family, said they did not resist because their lawyer for more than a decade, Shlomo Lecker, told them there was “nothing they could do.”
Hamdallah said his brother already moved out all of his belongings and did not even show up the morning of the eviction to avoid a confrontation.
A small group of leftwing activists opposed to the eviction was on the scene but did not halt the work to seal off the room.
“For decades they’ve been coming slowly,” said Malik Jaber, 20, a cousin of the Hamdallah family. “We have no doubt that in 20 years they’re going to take this entire area.”