Last week the Jerusalem Magistrates Court ruled on the eviction of five housing units in the neighborhood of Um Haroun in Sheikh Jarrah. Justice Anna Schneider ruled that the Qiswani family must evict its home and leave it to the “Shabali” Company, owned by Jewish investors affiliated with Jerusalem City Council Member Arieh King. King himself runs a settler organization called “Israel Land Fund,” and he is the one behind the efforts to evict Palestinian families and handover their homes to settlers in Sheikh Jarrah specifically and in East Jerusalem in General.
At the center of the lawsuit is plot 38 that includes three housing units, a café and a small college, in an area of approximately 220 square meters. In 2007 the General Custodian released the property, which until then was rented to the Qiswani family that resided there since 1948, to the Jewish Aricha family. Then, in 2010, the Aricha family sold the majority of the property (11/16) to the Shabali Company. While the Qiswani family members argued that they have a lease for 20 years, provided to them by Meir Nadav of the General Custodian’s office, the court determined that this document is invalid.
In addition, yesterday Arieh King published a post on Facebook in which he stated that a further eviction, of the Shamasne family will soon be implemented by the Execution Office. In 2013 the High Court ruled “in a heavy heart” that the family, who has lived in the house since 1964, must leave its home in 18 months. The ruling was based on a law allowing the return of property owned by Jews before 1948 to the owners’ successors, but prevents this right from Palestinians who lost their lands during the same period. At the time of the ruling, there was much local and international pressure against the eviction in the form of demonstrations and statements by high-level officials.
Peace Now: The evacuation of East Jerusalemite Palestinians from their homes and properties is based on a discriminatory law, which allows the right of return to Jews only. The establishment of settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhood is a recipe for increased tensions, hatred and violence. The Israeli government can and should prevent the eviction of the families from the properties since this is not a real estate issue but rather it is a political issue that is at the heart of the possibility of reaching an agreement based on the two state solution.
The Israel Land Authority Expropriated Palestinian Land in East Jerusalem and Granted it to Settlers
A New Settlement is Being Built in Sheikh Jarrah by the Amana Association
Construction of a huge structure referred to as the “Amana House”, has recently started in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. The structure is intended to serve as an office building for the Amana Association – a private entity operating toward establishing and expanding settlements and responsible for many of the illegal outposts in the Territories. The structure is being built within the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and is adjacent to St. Joseph Hospital, which serves the Palestinian population of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Construction of the settlement is supported by a wide array of governmental institutions, headed by the Israel Land Authority (ILA). The ILA, in an illegal and misleading procedure, expropriated private Palestinian land and, handed it over to Amana, a right-wing pro-settler organization that is politically and ideologically affiliated with the right-wing government.
The story of the Amana House started in 1992 when the ILA decided to allocate the 3 dunams in Sheikh Jarrah to Amana for planning, based on Amana’s commitment to move their offices to Jerusalem (although in fact the offices of Amana were already in Jerusalem). While the land was included in 1968 in a map of some 4,000 dunams that the government planned to confiscate. Yet these specific 3 dunams were never legally expropriated. In 1998, the construction plan made by Amana was approved, and the ILA signed the plan as the owner of the land. In 2009 the then Minister of Finance, Yuval Steinitz, signed an announcement of confiscation for public interest of a new artificial parcel, that was prepared by the ILA in order to “launder” the confiscation of the land for Amana. An appeal by the Palestinian owners of the land demanding to cancel the construction permit granted to Amana, is now pending in the Israeli Supreme Court.
It is important to note that two of the leaders of Amana were recently questioned for allegedly taking kickbacks from a settlement development firm. It is also important to mention that the Amana Association owns the “Al Watan” company, subject of a police investigation on extensively fraudulent practices in land transactions in the Territories.
Peace Now: “Amana has mastered the art of illegal construction on stolen land in the West Bank and it is not surprising to see it doing the same in East Jerusalem. The government must stop doing the “dirty work” of taking over private land for Amana. It should return the land to its owners and must halt Amana’s construction that will make it harder to get to a compromise in Jerusalem”
Chapter 1: The New Settlement in Sheikh Jarrah – Location and Significance
The Amana House, whose construction was recently started, is supposed to serve as the headquarters of the Amana Association, with 70 offices on four floors covering an area of approximately 3 dunams (0.75 acres) in the heart of the Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The new settlement, does not only harm the delicate relations between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, but it is also intended to harm the possibility of a two-state solution as it is being built within a Palestinian neighborhood which will be part of the Palestinian capital in any future agreement.
The story of transferring the land to Amana reveals the manner in which governmental institutions mobilize in favor of political allies while trampling upon the rights of the Palestinian landowners and violating provisions of the law and of proper management. While the affair began over 20 years ago, the government still continues to do all that it can to defend the ILA’s illegal activities and ensure the transfer of the land to settlers, as exposed in a hearing on the petition recently filed by the owners of the land, the Abu Ta’a family. The government does nothing in order to correct the distortions and illegal acts revealed and returning the land to its owners.
Starting the construction of the Amana House, February 2016
Chapter 2: Notice of Expropriation Intention in 1968
Following the Six-Day War, on 11 January 1968, the Minister of Finance issued two notices pursuant to Articles 5 and 7 of the Land Ordinance, announcing the intention to expropriate nearly 990 acres in East Jerusalem. In practice, the government took possession of only certain areas of the 990 acres (toward establishing Ramat Eshkol and the French Hill, the “Eastern Wing” of the government office campus, paving Rte. 1 and more).
According to the law, government use of any part of the land requires an additional Minister of Finance signature to the notice, pursuant to Article 19 of the Land Ordinance, announcing actual expropriation (although for establishing the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the government implemented a temporary order under the Public Neighborhood Registration Law, exempting the need for such signature pursuant to Article 19).
In practice, the Amana House land was not expropriated. In 1991, as part of HCJ 5575/91 on expropriations relating to construction plans in the seam zone, ILA Jerusalem District Manager declared that, of the land included in the 1968 expropriation notice for the seam line, only the land included in Urban City Plan no. 2989 was actually expropriated for public use. The rest of the land is not considered expropriated land and the expropriation notice was exhausted through UCP 2989. The plot belonging to the Abu Ta’a family was not included in the expropriated area.
In other words, according to law and a statement by the ILA itself, the land on which Amana House is being built was private land that is not actually expropriated.
It is important to note that, until recently, the owners of the land continued to use the land, renting it to an automobile business and using it as a large vehicle parking lot. The owners received no notice of the intention to expropriate their land nor of all of the proceedings conducted in its regard. The 1968 notice was general and provided no specification of parcels and plots, but merely stated “land in Jerusalem”.
Chapter 3: Tender Exemption and the Allocation for Planning
On 30 August 1992 (probably in a post-election manipulation), ILA management decided to grant Amana planning permission to the land. The excuse for granting it a tender exemption was that “the movement will relocate its offices from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem”.
Not only did the ILA not own the land at the time but the excuse for granting the exemption was false. The Amana offices, as recorded in the allocation transaction form itself, were located on 32B Ramat HaGolan St., Jerusalem:
According to the authorization agreement, Amana was required to prepare and approve a construction plan by 1 July 1993, but this did not happen (perhaps because it was the Rabin Administration that, following the “Klugman Report” attempted to put the ILA and its activities in East Jerusalem into order).
A new authorization agreement was signed in 1997, under Netanyahu’s government, providing retroactive application to 13 September 1993 in order to maintain the validity of the tender exemption. These measures were all taken behind the land owners’ backs, without them being able to know what was happening.
Chapter 4: The Approval of the Plan Based on a Questionable ILA Signature
In 1997 Amana submitted a construction plan (No. 4979) to establish a “public institution”. When the district committee convened to discuss the approval of the plan, the Head of the Planning Administration stated that he had reservations as to the heading of a “public institution” used for a private organization. Nevertheless, the plan was approved since the committee believed that it related to state-owned land. Apparently, when Amana first submitted the plan, it stated the ILA was the owner of the land, but did not have the ILA’s signature. The plan received preliminary approval and after it was approved for depositing, the Planning Administration noticed the missing signature and asked Amana (twice) to submit a copy signed by ILA. It was only several months later that Amana filed a copy allegedly signed by then Deputy District Planner, Amalia Abramovich, on 9 September 1998.
A copy of the plan provisions signed by the ILA’s Amalia Abramovich
It is important to note that, in another instance, AP 6212-11-12, Abramovich claimed that her signature to a certain permit was forged. She discovered this based on the correspondence relating to her signature. However, in the case of Amana, as part of the petition filed by the owner of the land, the ILA refused to disclose the correspondence and even avoided submitting an affidavit from Mrs. Abramovich, still employed by the ILA, explaining the circumstances leading to her signature as owner of the land.
In addition to the signature and instead of attaching a land registration extract, Amana provided the Planning Administration with a letter from Avraham Nawi, ILA Jerusalem District Land Registration Coordinator, according to which “the area … is included in the designated location that was expropriated in favor of the government”. Nawi’s ambiguous wording was intended to create a misleading pretense by which the land is owned by the government.
In 2008, when Peace Now first learned of the intention to build the Amana House, we contacted the ILA and asked why Amana received the land without a tender. The ILA’s response, dated 11 January 2009, stated: “We hereby inform you that the said land is not managed by the Israel Land Administration”.
After calling to determine how the development contract between the Administration and Amana was signed, we were informed that the previous response was wrong. We have yet to receive an answer regarding the tender exemption.
Chapter 5: Attempt to register the land to the government
A development agreement was signed between ILA and Amana on 12 September 2005 by which Amana must pay the ILA 913,640 NIS in utilization fees. Afterwards and in order to obtain construction outlines, Amana was required to prepare a PRP – Plan for Registration Purposes – in order to register the newly designated plots to the government. However, since it is not really government land, the Land Registrar refused to register the land to the government as per the PRP and Amana could not obtain a permit.
Once again, ILA’s Jerusalem District Land Registration Coordinator, Avraham Nawi, came to the rescue and sent a letter of undertaking on 26 November 2006, by which the ILA will initiate publication of a Minister of Finance notice pursuant to Article 19 of the Land Ordinance, comprising actual expropriation of the lot and enabling registration thereof.
The permit process continued upon this commitment to register the PRP.
Chapter 6: Minister of Finance signs the expropriation notice
As stated, the problem with promoting construction was discovered when it became clear that the land cannot be registered to the government since it was not actually expropriated (pursuant to Article 19 of the Land Ordinance). Yet, the government’s expropriation of a lot belonging to a private individual with the aim of allocating it to a private entity (Amana) does not comply with the basic rules of proper management. Therefore, the ILA came up with a creative idea: the ILA invented a new artificial parcel, including the Eastern Governmental Campus, crossing a 4-lane road and including the 0.75 acres illegally allocated to Amana, located across the road. The parcel lacks any logic as it does not follow any natural or historical boundary of parcels in the region, and it was delineated only in order to contain the plot intended for Amana.
Minister of Finance, Yuval Steinitz, signed the expropriation of the entire parcel on 20 December 2009 and the land was registered to the government.
The Fictitious parcel created by the ILA in order to expropriate the land for Amana
The Minister of Finance is authorized to determine that the expropriation is retroactive, applying even before signing the notice pursuant to Article 19. In this instance, the expropriation notice states that it “applies as of publishing the notice in the records”. In other words, although the land expropriated upon the Minister of Finance’s signature, it was not state-owned when it was allocated to Amana and the construction plan was approved.
Chapter 7: Petition to cancel the plan and the construction permit
Works toward constructing the Amana House began in November 2015. Pursuant thereto, the owners of the land, the Abu Ta’a family, filed an administrative petition to the District Court in Jerusalem, demanding that the plan and the construction permit approved for Amana be revoked. In court, the government’s lawyers defended the illegal expropriation and allocation of the land to Amana. The government avoided disclosure of the documents relating to the allocation and expropriation procedures, which could shed some light on the decision-making process and true intentions underlying ILA’s activities.
The court rejected the petition on 7 March 2016, stating that even where the construction permit procedure was flawed, it is subject to relative nullity, seeing that the expropriation was eventually executed by the Minister of Finance, albeit too late. The court did not consider the fact that the expropriation was not retroactive and disregarded some of the landowner’s arguments. The landowner appealed to the Supreme Court where the file is pending a hearing.
In tandem with this week’s release of Palestinian prisoners (on October 29, 2013), there were many reports and announcements regarding approvals, or anticipated approvals, of new settlement construction. The most official announcement was delivered in the Knesset yesterday (October 30) by Vice Minister Ofir Akunis, who is the liaison-minister to the Knesset:
“The Prime Minister has instructed to issue for construction over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the Judea and Samaria settlements in Karnei Shomron, Ariel, Givat Zeev, Maale Adumim, Elkana, Beitar Illit and Geva Binyamin-Adam. I want to note that the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister Gidon Saar agreed to promote construction plans in Jerusalem, as I said, c. 1,500 units in Ramat Shlomo, the establishment of a tourists and archeology center in the City of David and the establishment of a National Park in the Mt. Scopus Slopes. In parallel, the Prime Minister has instructed to promote the planning of over 2,000 housing units in the following places: Shilo, Givat Zeev, Karnei Shomron, Almog, Alei-Zahav, Yakir, Kfar Adumim, Mechola, Talmon, Bracha, Ofra and Beit El. The construction in Judea and Samaria will continue and grow. Thank you.”
- market (i.e., issue tenders for) over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the West Bank
- promote plans for another 2,000 units in West Bank settlements
- promote another 1,500 units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo
- promote two controversial plans related to the public domain in East Jerusalem, specifically, in Silwan and the Mt.Scopus slopes.
In total, the announcement opens the door for the approval/promotion of more than 5,000 units, in addition to the major public domain projects in East Jerusalem.
Notably, the details of exactly what will be approved/promoted have been left ambiguous. Likewise, the timing for implementation of these announcements is murky. Plans and tenders could be issued and promoted over the coming days or even weeks. Going forward, it can be expected that when any settlement-related publications occur, the Government will claim they are part of the 5,000 units declared in the context of this prisoners’ release.
Peace Now’s Best Guess as to What to Expect
Based on our information and our understanding of the announcement above, our best estimate regarding upcoming settlement plans and tenders is as follows:
1. Expected Tenders (“over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the Judea and Samaria settlements”)
A tender is an invitation for bids from contractors to buy the rights to build and sell a construction project. This involves a public process (advertising the tender, assessing bids, and awarding the project, or in some cases, not awarding it, if there are no acceptable bids). In general, construction may begin several months after the issuing of the tender.
The exact makeup of the 1,500 tenders declared by Vice-Minister Akunis is unknown at this point (indeed, it is possible that the Netanyahu government has announced the number without yet decided where all of the tenders will be – something that has happened in the past). Bearing this in mind, and based on information we have about the potential construction in the settlements, we estimate the following settlements/projects are the likely targets for tenders:
A few hundred residual units, probably in Gilo and/or Ramot.
The West Bank
Givat Zeev – around 100 units
Adam (Geva Binyamin) – around 100 units [East of the barrier]
Elkana – probably 290 units
Beitar Illit – a few hundred units
Ariel – up to hundreds of units [East of the built route of the barrier]
Karnei Shomron – up to hundreds of units [East of the built route of the barrier]
Maale Adumim – dozens of units.
2. Promotion of Plans in Jerusalem (“…agreed to promote construction plans in Jerusalem”)
- the promotion of the Ramat Shlomo plan for 1,500 units (publication of validation of the plan)
- the promotion of the Givati Parking Lot plan (publication of depositing)
- the promotion of the National Park in Mt. Scopus Slopes
The latter two plans for the public domain in East Jerusalem generally receive less attention, since they do not relate to new settler housing units. However, their impact should not be underestimated. The Givati Parking Lot plan involves a plan to build a huge visitor center at the entrance to Silwan (outside of the Old City, near the Dung Gate). It would have potentially devastating consequences for the two-state solution and for the currant stability of Jerusalem. The Mt. Scopus Park plan, for its part, seeks to “to link between the inner encirclement of the Old City and its visual basin …and the outer encirclement in Greater Jerusalem, as disclosed by the E-1 plan between Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem. The new national park will be a bridge, creating forging a geographical link between the Old City basin and E-1.” (Quote from Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann)
3. Promotion of Plans in West Bank Settlements (“instructed to promote the planning of over 2,000 housing units”)
On 10/30, there was the preliminary publication (on the internet, not yet in the newspapers, as required by law) of plans for 611 units, as follows:
- Shilo – 95 units – preliminary publication for validation [East of the barrier]
- Givat Zeev – 29 units – preliminary publication for validation
- Almog – 31 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the barrier]
- Yakir – 160 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
- Beit El – 296 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the barrier]
(all of these settlements were mentioned in the Knesset announcement)
In addition, the potential plans that we believe might be promoted (there could be other plans of which we are unaware), based on the settlements listed in the Akunis announcement, are as follows:
- Kernei Shomron – 22 units – plan to be published for validation [East of the barrier]
- Alei Zahav – 450 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
- Kfar Adumim – there are several plans in the pipeline; the largest plan is for 255 units waiting for depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
- Talmon – there are two plans waiting for depositing, one for 314 units and another for 255 units. [East of the barrier]
- Bracha – 90 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the barrier]
- Ofra – 255 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the barrier]
- Mechola – unknown [East of the barrier].
What This All Means
The bottom line is that Netanyahu continues to play a double game. With his words, he continually says he wants peace and he is serious about negotiations with the Palestinians. With his actions, he continually undermines the prospects of peace and the two-state solution, and undercuts the chance for the success of negotiations, by creating new facts on the ground in settlements.
- Following the killing of an IDF soldier in Hebron on September 23, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declared his intention to encourage the establishment of a new settlement in Hebron at a site known as “Beit Hamachpela.”
- However, while the world’s attention is focused on “Beit Hamachpela” (whose establishment as a new settlement is facing legal hurdles that postpone it for months or even years, notwithstanding Netanyahu’s support), the establishment of another large new settlement in the heart of Hebron, at a site known as “the House of Contention,” is likely to take place in the coming days/weeks.
- The context for this is an anticipated ruling from the Israeli High Court of Justice on a case regarding settler ownership of a large property in the heart of Hebron. It is almost certain that the Court will rule in favor of the settlers (i.e., that the settlers own the property).
- This would be the first new settlement in Hebron since the 1980s, with potentially devastating consequences with respect to Palestinian residents of Hebron, tensions and violence in that volatile city, for ongoing peace talks, and for the two-state solution.
- This settlement can be stopped. The Netanyahu government will likely make the case that in both cases (“the House of Contention” and “Beit Hamachpela”), these are simply questions of legal property ownership, where the settlers bought the property from the owners, and the decisions are out of its hands. Such an argument is mendacious.
- Any ruling in favor of the settlers on the issue of ownership does not/not grant them any legal right to take control of, develop, or move into the sites. Under Israeli law, absent the explicit approval of the Minister of Defense, settlers cannot register under their names any property purchased from Palestinians in the OccupiedTerritories. Without such an approval the settlers cannot establish a new settlement.
- In addition, even if the Minister of Defense approves the registration of the purchase of a Palestinian property by settlers, the IDF still has the authority to prevent the establishment of any settlement for security reasons.
- In March 2007, settlers moved into a large building in Hebron, popularly known as the “House of Contention,” claiming to have purchased the property, Palestinians disputed that claim. Subsequently, Israeli police found that some of the purchase documents were forged and the government ordered the eviction of the settlers. That eviction took place in December 2008, following a week of settler violence against Palestinians in the area.
- On September 13, 2012, an Israeli Court ruled that, despite the forged documents, the purchase was legal. That ruling was appealed to the Israeli High Court, which held a hearing on September 2, 2013, and is supposed to issue its own ruling at any time. The High Court is expected to rule in favor of the settlers.
- The exact timing of the ruling is unknown. It is in the hands of the judges, and in theory the ruling will be issued as soon as they finish writing it. This could be a matter of days, weeks or months. However, once there is a ruling there may be very little time, if any, to prevent the settlers from taking over the site.
Ownership ≠ A Right to Settle
- A ruling in the settlers’ favor in no way implies or grants the settlers the right to occupy the site. The authority to establish a settlement in the West Bank rests exclusively in the hands of the Government of Israel, irrespective of any ownership claim. Every purchase of property in the West Bank by Israelis must be approved by the Minister of Defense.
- Indeed, the original Israeli court ruling in the case stated explicitly: “this ruling does not create any civil or administrative obligation on the Government authorities, including regarding the issue of future registration of the plaintiff’s rights”.
- In the case of the House of Contention, following the original court ruling but before the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the settlers’ purchase. Thus, the settlers will likely argue that they already have the Minister of Defense’s approval and can take over the property as soon as the ruling is handed down.
- The current Minister and Government will likely also point to the Court ruling and Barak’s approval to claim “there’s nothing we can do.” This claim is disingenuous if not mendacious.
- The army is presently in control of the site. The current Minister of Defense is well within his rights to exert authority over the issue, following the Court ruling. In this capacity, he has the authority to withdraw the approval given by the previous minister, to put that approval on hold, to postpone the implementation of the purchase, etc…
- Even if the Minister of Defense allows the registration of the purchase in the name of the settlers, he may still prevent them from entering the site for security reasons, political arguments or any other reasons. The Minister of Defense is, for all intents and purposes, the sovereign ruler in the West Bank.
- This legal construct exists, at least in part, to prevent extremist settlers and their financial backers from dictating Israeli policy in the West Bank, including the use of Israeli security resources, through property purchase faits accomplis.
- In short, a new settlement can result only if the current Israeli Minister of Defense, in his capacity as a member of the Netanyahu government, makes an affirmative decision to allow/enable it to happen.
A Disaster-in-the-Making: The (Potential) New Settlement
The site in question is a large building (4000 sq. m.) located inside the built-up area of Hebron, on the road connecting Kiryat Arba (located on Hebron’s periphery) and the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahim Mosque.
Settlers have long sought to convince/compel the IDF to take control of this strategic corridor, with the goal of establishing contiguous Israeli control between the two settlement areas.
Establishing a settlement at this strategic location would do precisely this. Specifically, it would:
- Be the first new settlement established inside Hebron since the 1980s.
- Involve a huge increase in the number of Israeli settlers living in this volatile area (potentially hundreds of new residents, bearing in mind that the present population of the Hebron settlements is around 800, total).
- Be the first Israeli settlement in this particular part of Hebron.
- Have the same impact on the ground as other settlements in the heart of Hebron, including new restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the area, including additional road closures and increased harassment of Palestinian residents by both settlers and IDF soldiers.
- When tensions rise, it may lead to a total closure of the area to Palestinians (as is the case with Shuhada Street). This would mean the cutting off of neighborhoods from one another, the closing of shops and businesses, and increasing pressure on Palestinians to abandon the area altogether.
Hebron has long been one of the most volatile flashpoint in the West Bank with respect to relations between settlers and Palestinians. This in part reflects the fact that Hebron is the only place where Israeli settlers live side-by-side with Palestinians. It also reflects the related fact that Hebron settlers are among the most hardcore, ideologically-motivated, and heavily armed of all West Bank settlers. It is no coincidence that the worst single act of settler terrorism against Palestinians – the 1994 massacre of Palestinians at prayer in the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque – took place in the heart of Hebron, carried out by a resident of Kiryat Arba.
A petit drama happened today. At the midst of the planning strike on East Jerusalem, in which 6,500 units are approved in four days, the Regional Planning Committee rejected today the plan of Givat Hamatos C – for 813 units. This rejection means that the plan is canceled, and that in case one wants to build, there should be a new plan that will pass through all the planning process.
Unfortunately, we can’t really celebrate the annulment of one of the plans in Givat Hamatos. First of all, because it is only one of the plans that are planned in Givat Hamatos, with less than ¼ of the planned units. The local planning committee will probably approve tomorrow the Givat Hamatos A plan, for 2,610 units, which is large enough to prevent a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and thus may prevent the two state solution.
Secondly, the reason behind the rejection of the plan has to do with one of the objections that was filed by an Israeli company that bought a small part of the land at the planned area, and is wishing to suggest an alternative plan where they propose to build 900 units on their part of land alone (in addition to potential construction on the other parts of the area). So eventually we might end up facing a new plan, that will be brought for approval, in which much more construction may be approved…
On Thursday (6.12.12) the Jerusalem District Court rejected the appeal of the Shamasne family against the ruling ordering their eviction from their home.
The house is located in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, in the area called Um Haroun (AKA Nahalat Shimon), and was owned by Jews before 1948. After 1948, Sheikh Jarrah became under the Jordanian control and the Jordanian government became responsible for the Jewish properties. The Jordanian Custodian for Enemy Properties rented the Jewish houses of Sheikh Jarrah to Palestinian families. After 1967, the management of the properties was given to the Israeli General Custodian, who continued the rental agreements with the Palestinian families. Those who had agreements with the Custodian before 1968 got the status of protected tenants.
On 2011, the Israel General Custodian filed a suit against the Shamasane family, arguing that their rent agreement ended in 2008. The Custodian didn’t mention that there were previous rent agreements with the family, and that they continued to pay the rent even after 2008. The Shamasne family claimed that they live in the house already from 1964, and therefore they have the status of protected tenants. They showed rent agreements from 1977 and proofs that show that they live in the house since 1972, but they didn’t manage to prove, with all the necessary legal evidence, that they were living at the house before 1968, and the court did not accept their status to be of protected tenants. They also claimed that the General Custodian didn’t translate the rent agreements into Arabic and that they were deceived by the representatives of the Custodian, who misinterpreted the agreement and never mentioned that the agreements are at a non-protected status.
On May 2012, the Magistrates Court of Jerusalem rejected the family’s claims and accepted the lawsuit of the General Custodian ordering the family to evict the house by the end of December 2012. Last week, on December 6th, the District Court rejected the family’s appeal against that ruling, and if the request of the family to appeal to the Supreme Court and to halt the eviction till the appeal is heard would not be accepted, the Shamsane family would have to leave the house by the end of December 2012.
The involvement of the settlers
This is not a regular case between renters and tenants. Surprisingly, the Israeli General Custodian, which is an official governmental body, was not represented in court by the State Attorney office nor by the legal adviser of the custodian office. The lawyers who represented the custodian and led the case were private lawyers that are connected to settlers, who received power of attorney from the custodian office.
Shortly after the court’s ruling, a settlers group twitted: “Good News! On Thursday we won a court case to evict the Shamsane family”. Two days later, according to reports in the media, the head of the settlers group showed up in Sheikh Jarrah in order to hand the family the ruling of the court.
So, if the General Custodian wins a court case against a Palestinian family, why should the settlers claim victory? Or in other words, who is truly behind the fight against the Palestinian family?
According to an Israeli law from 1970, if Jewish owners of properties in East Jerusalem that were under Jordanian control after 1948 request from the Israeli General Custodian their properties, it must release the property to them, and they become the official owners of the property. If the property is occupied by protected tenants, the Jewish owners should continue to rent the property to the tenants and will receive the payments, otherwise, they are free to rent or sell the property to whoever they wish.
According to Adv. Mouhanned Jabara who represents the Shamasne family, the settlers group found the heirs of the original Jews who owned the house before 1948, and made a deal with them. The General Custodian agreed to allow the settlers to represent him in court, in order to evict the Palestinian family, and then, to transfer the ownership of the house to the heirs of the original Jewish owners (who have already made a deal to give the property to the settlers). This way, the Palestinian family would face in court the General Custodian who is an official body representing the public interest, and not just another private owner suing his tenants.
I think that it is a severe case where the authorities are serving the settlers’ interests in order to evict a Palestinian family from its home in East Jerusalem and to give it to settlers. The creation of a settlement at the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood, especially when a Palestinian family is evicted as a result of this, increases the friction and tension in Jerusalem. It additionally creates another obstacle for achieving the Two State Solution that is based on a compromise in Jerusalem.
And finally, if it was right and ethical to return the properties in East Jerusalem to Jews who owned them before 1948, and kick the Palestinians out, then it should equally be right and ethical to return properties in Israel to Palestinians who owned them before 1948. This is a dangerous precedent that would undermine the Israeli rightful claim that the issue of the refugees and pre-1948 claims should be resolved in a compromise and compensation and not by implementation of the right of return kicking Israelis out of their home.
The eviction of the Palestinian family can still be stopped. The General Custodian, who is still the owner of the house, can decide to rent the house to the Shamasne family as protected tenants, and if the original owners request it, they may become the owners and receive the rent from the Shamasne’s. However, it is in the hands of the government to order the Custodian to do so, and within the current political constellation, it likelihood of this to happen seems as far as the moon.