In March, numerous Palestinian families across the Old City Basin are concurrently facing imminent eviction or potentially decisive hearings on eviction cases, placing over 80
individuals simultaneously at risk of forced displacement. The eviction claims have been filed on the basis of inherently discriminatory Israeli laws by settler groups working in collaboration with the state to expand Jewish settlement in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. If the evictions are carried out, this would not only constitute an acute violation of human rights and International Law, but also carry a severe humanitarian impact on the families and further erode conditions for an agreed political future.
These coinciding threats will coalesce with the beginning of Ramadan – a situation which could once again lead to increased tensions in Jerusalem and across the region. In 2021, the pending evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah
coupled with police violence
, collective restrictions on East Jerusalem residents
, and breaches of the status quo on the Holy Esplanade during Ramadan served to ignite unrest throughout the region and spark the war with Hamas.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan likewise coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover this year. While Ramadan begins on 22 March and ends on 20 April, Passover takes place between April 5-12. In recent years, the confluence of these holidays has particularly seen increased friction in Jerusalem and recurring violations of the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. More details can be found here and here.
The Israeli government must be called upon to halt these processes of displacement.
The following Palestinian families face either imminent eviction or decisive court decisions in March:
- Gaith-Sub Laban Family, Muslim Quarter, Old City – the family of veteran Ir Amim staff member, Ahmad Sub Laban, faces eviction precisely one month from today on March 15 following the Supreme Court's decision to deny their request to appeal. All legal remedies have been exhausted, and hence the family is at risk of immediate eviction. Save for state intervention, there is no further recourse to prevent their displacement. See details below.
- Shehadeh Family, Batan al-Hawa, Silwan – The District Court ruled to evict the family by March 1. A request to appeal to the Supreme Court is currently pending. See details below.
- Salem Family, Um Haroun, Sheikh Jarrah – A decisive administrative hearing on their pending eviction is scheduled for March 9 at the Enforcement and Collections Authority. If authorized, the eviction could potentially be carried out by the end of March. See details below.
- Dajani, Daoud, Hammad Families, Kerem al Jaouni, Sheikh Jarrah – a Supreme Court hearing on their appeal is scheduled for March 29. While a similar ruling is expected to that of the one handed down last year in the cases of four other families from the neighborhood, the outcome is still not definitive. See details below.
The aforementioned families are among some 150 Palestinian families – totaling over 1000 people – across the Old City and its surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods who are under threat of displacement via eviction due to discriminatory laws and state collusion with settler groups. Sheikh Jarrah to the north of the Old City and Silwan to the south are the two neighborhoods under greatest pressure given their strategic location as gateways to the Old City and the number of historical and religious sites within their bounds.
Settler Exploitation of Discriminatory Laws
A common thread between the abovementioned cases is that the eviction lawsuits were filed by settler groups on the basis of the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters law. This discriminatory law exclusively affords Jews with land restitution rights for assets allegedly owned by Jews in East Jerusalem prior to 1948 despite many of these properties now inhabited by Palestinians. No parallel legal mechanism exists for Palestinians to recover pre-1948 assets on the Israeli side of the Green Line now inhabited by Jews. To the contrary, the 1950 Absentee Property Law enshrines that Palestinians who were forced to abandon their homes in what became Israel due to the war of 1948 cannot retrieve them.
Settler organizations aided by state bodies act to secure ownership rights of these assets through various means despite having no relation to the previous Jewish owners or occupants. Acquisition of these rights provides settler groups with the legal platform to then “retrieve” the property from the General Custodian and initiate eviction lawsuits against Palestinian families through application of the 1970 law. A department within the Ministry of Justice, the General Custodian is the Israeli body responsible for managing pre-1948 Jewish assets in East Jerusalem until “reclaimed.” It should be noted that the General Custodian has become one of the leading state institutions who works in cooperation with settler groups to facilitate evictions of Palestinians and seizure of their homes in East Jerusalem. Many of the families facing eviction are Palestinian refugees who lost homes on the Israeli side of the Green Line in 1948 and now stand to be displaced for a second or even third time.
Gaith-Sub Laban Family, Muslim Quarter, Old City
The family of veteran Ir Amim field researcher, Ahmad Sub Laban, is under imminent threat of eviction from their home in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. The District Court ruled in November 2022 to uphold the eviction demand by the Atara Leyoshna settler organization and instructed the family to vacate the property by January 31, 2023. A leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was filed and subsequently rejected as of last week, February 6, 2023. The court ordered the family’s eviction by 15 March. As noted above, all potential legal recourse has been exhausted. Engagement with the Israeli government to halt this eviction is therefore vital.
The Gaith-Sub Laban family has been embroiled in more than a 40-year legal battle to maintain its protected tenancy and beat back persistent attempts by the Atara Leyoshna settler group to assume control of the family’s apartment where they have resided since 1954. It should be noted that Atara Leyoshna is affiliated with the Ateret Cohanim settler organization who is behind the mass eviction lawsuits in Batan al-Hawa, Silwan and attempts to take over the iconic Christian hotel properties near Jaffa Gate.
The Sub Laban family first rented the apartment from the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property (property allegedly owned by Jews prior to 1948) in 1954, at which point it was granted protected tenancy status. The family has consistently maintained this status – from 1948 through 1967, until today – and continued to pay rent to the Israeli General Custodian, which assumed control of properties administered by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. Despite its protected tenancy status, the Sub Labans have been under unrelenting threat of eviction since 1978, first by the General Custodian and later by Atara Leyoshna.
Other Palestinian families living in the family's building have been gradually evicted over the years and their apartments handed over to settlers. In an attempt to force the Sub Labans out, settlers blocked the stairway leading to the family’s apartment. For 15 years, the apartment could only be entered through a neighbor's unit, until the Court ordered the stairway unsealed in 2001.
Atara Leyoshna’s Acquisition of the Sub-Laban’s Apartment
In May 2010, the General Custodian conveyed the apartment to Atara Leyoshna on the basis of the aforementioned 1970 law. Soon after receiving rights to the Sub-Laban apartment, Atara Leyoshna filed an eviction claim against the family. After the lower courts ruled to the evict the Sub Laban family in favor of the settler group, their case reached the Supreme Court in 2016.
The court ruled that Nora Gaith and Mustafa Sub Laban (Ahmad’s parents) could remain in their home, yet only for another 10 years, after which their protected tenancy would be terminated. The ruling did not apply to the third generation of protected tenants--Ahmad and his siblings, including those still living with their parents in the home.
In 2019, the settler group filed another eviction lawsuit against the family, claiming that they had violated the terms of protected tenancy by spending long periods away from their home. Despite evidence showing the Gaith-Sub Laban couple spent time away due to recurring health issues, the lower courts ruled to evict the family in favor of the settler group. As mentioned above, the Supreme Court this time denied the family’s request to appeal, ending an over 40-year legal battle over the Sub Laban’s home by authorizing the family's eviction. It should be noted that they are being forcibly evicted three years before conclusion of the 10-year protected tenancy period upon which the Supreme Court had originally ruled.