Supreme Court rejects appeal of east Jerusalem family to remain in their home

Israel Land Fund will evict Shamasna family after years of legal battles; permitted to stay 18 months.

Sheikh Jarrah protests (R) 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Sheikh Jarrah protests (R) 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the high profile appeal of the Shamasna family, opening the way for the Israel Land Fund to evict the family from its Sheikh Jarrah residence after years of legal battles.
The court gave the family 18 months to find a new residence, framed as a humanitarian gesture of sorts, beyond the requirements of the law.
The ruling followed a May 21 hearing in which the court failed to convince the sides to accept a compromise in which the Fund’s rights as owner would be recognized, but the Shamasna family would be permitted to stay in the residence until the elderly Shamasna’s, who claim to have lived there since 1964, were deceased.
The court did not go into serious depth analyzing the argument, essentially using a procedural argument to disqualify the case.
It noted that since the appeal was actually a second round appeal (an appeal from the district court which was already an appeal from the lower magistrate’s court), the Supreme Court did not need to seriously analyze the issues unless there was some obvious and glaring error by the lower courts, of which it did not see.
The seemingly simple ownership lawsuit for the Shamasna family, filed in 2009, has been one of the frontline battles between groups of Arabs and Jews over the future character and identity of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
The family’s appeal arose from a 2012 Jerusalem District Court decision to evict the east Jerusalem Arab family from Beit Merivah in Sheikh Jarrah.
At the May 21 hearing, the case had 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 had 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.
The elderly family members until now had succeeded in delaying eviction despite groups of right-wing Jewish activists recent legal actions to evict or retake residences in the neighborhood.
These legal actions have led to significant turmoil, demonstrations by east Jerusalem Arabs, left-wing Jewish activists, appearances by Knesset members and general tension in the area.
Attorney Muhanda Jabarah had 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 cannot 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 elsewhere.
The Fund’s lawyer, Avi Segal, 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 taking ownership.
A spokeswoman for Peace Now said that this was a dangerous argument for Jewish-Israelis to make and could backfire and “hurt Israel.” 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 ruling came the day after the state rolled back a more general policy for confiscating east Jerusalem properties from Arabs, but other than that timing and the impact on east Jerusalem’s character, was not directly related.