Israel evicts 700 Palestinians from East Jerusalem

  • Posted on: 22 November 2018

On November 21, 2018, Israel's High Court of Justice rejected a petition filed by residents of Silwan neighborhood on Wednesday, authorizing the right-wing Ateret Cohanim organization to continue evacuating 700 Palestinians from East Jerusalem's Silwan. Palestinian house deeds were transferred to the Benvenisti Trust by Israel’s Justice Ministry in 2002 claiming it purchased the land in the late 1800s to settle Jews arriving in Palestine from Yemen. The 700 Palestinians, who make up 70 families, have been going through a legal battle to protect their right to remain in their homes since 2002.

Nevertheless, the process in which the organization received the rights to the land was flawed, leaving the door open for residents to continue their legal battle by saying that the lower courts will have to rule on this before approving the evictions.

Ateret Cohanim is a right-wing organization founded in 1978. It is dedicated to the "Judaization of Jerusalem" by working to create a Jewish majority in the Old City and Arab Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. The organization depends heavily on donations from American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz and his wife Cherna Moskowitz. Ateret Cohanim has so far evicted two families and desires to evict others. The families waged a lengthy battle against the process of the eviction, arguing that the transfer of land to the right-wing organization was flawed in various ways. The families argued that under the Ottoman law, the land was classified as Miri land - a classification that would have enabled the original trust to own only the buildings, not the land. Since the original buildings were destroyed long ago, the trust no longer has any claim to the land, the petition argued.

Some of the Justices accepted some of the petitioners' arguments. For instance, Justice Barak-Erez criticized the administrator general for transferring the land to Ateret Cohanim without notifying the residents or even to finding out who lived there. The justices decided to rule on the question of whether the land had originally been classified as Miri land, saying it's difficult to answer that question now, more than 100 years later, and that even the state had changed its mind on this question. The issue does require clarification and "may even require the appointment of experts" to investigate, they wrote. But they said the High Court is not the right venue for determining how the Ottomans classified the land.

Justice Barak-Erez closed her ruling by notifying the hardship residents would suffer by being evicted from homes where they had lived for decades and which some had even purchased. She, therefore, urged the state to compensate anyone evicted. Although the evictions, assuming the trust indeed owns the land, she wrote, "Evicting people who have lived on this land for decades - some of them without even knowing that the land belongs to others - creates a human problem. Especially when it's done without compensation or any other solution. It seems the state would do better to consider providing a solution, in appropriate cases, for those evicted from their homes. Property rights are important, but it's also important to defend people's homes.

Israeli settlements are considered a violation of international law and major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians want for their future state including occupied East Jerusalem. Some 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem - territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war.  

President Donald Trump has avoided condemning settlement construction and his administration has been far less critical of settlement building than his predecessor Barack Obama. According to reports, West Bank settlement plans increased to 6,742 units in 2017 compared with 2,629 the previous year, when former US President Barack Obama was in office. The lack of scrutiny from the current US administration emboldened settlers to take over Palestinian land with military and state backing.