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.
A view of Um Haroun area in Sheikh Jarrah
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.