Jerusalem family gets temporary reprieve from eviction

Members of the Sub Laban family meet with an official at the EU mission in occupied East Jerusalem on 3 December 2015, to demand protection from the Jewish settlers who are trying to take over their house in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

Israel’s high court has granted the Sub Laban family the right to appeal their eviction from their home of more than six decades in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem.

The decision overturns the lower courts, which ruled the family had no grounds to appeal.

The ruling halts the eviction until the completion of proceedings in the Israeli courts.

While the Sub Laban family have been threatened with eviction since the late 1970s, pressure intensified in 2010 when the Israeli government gave the building to the Kollel Galicia Trust.

The Sub Labans are currently fighting their tenth eviction demand by the settler organization.

The Kollel Galicia trust evolved from Atara L’yoshna, a consortium of private settler groups that emerged in the 1980s with the aim to colonize the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

Settler group Ateret Cohanim, founded in 1978, was a leading member of Atara L’yoshna.

Over the last year, settlers have made several attempts to evict the Sub Labans, at times with the assistance of the Israeli police.

Last month, settlers who had recently taken over a neighboring house drilled six large holes into the walls of the Sub Laban children’s bedroom.

Last family standing

The family’s fight to stay in their house has been taken up by European diplomats and the US consulate in Jerusalem.

Last November, Tobias Ellwood, a member of the UK parliament, described forced evictions as a “serious provocation” and called for the proceedings against the Sub Laban family to be halted.

The family has credited such international attention as partially responsible for the high court’s favorable ruling last week.

“All the efforts to pressure the Israeli government and involve foreign diplomats are paying off,” Nora Sub Laban said in a press release emailed to media.

“Israel knows that the world is watching and this can change the outcome, not only in my case, but hopefully it can put an end to Israel’s policies of displacing Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

The Sub Labans are the last Palestinian family remaining in a building in Maalot Khalidiya Street in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

For the last year, private settler organizations like the Kollel Galicia Trust and Ateret Cohanim have been the prevailing force in evicting Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem.

A recent publication produced by human rights group Ir Amim warns that private settler associations have been responsible for an “unprecedented wave of seizures of Palestinian properties” in and near the Old City of occupied Jerusalem.

Ir Amim contrasts this with the relatively slow pace of building plans for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem approved by the Israeli government last year.

A spike in seizures

Last December, four Palestinian families opposite the Sub Labans on Maalot Khalidiya Street received notices of legal action submitted by Pinchas Aharon Naminsky Trust, the Kollel Volin Association, and the Chayei Olam Talmud Torah and Yeshiva and Soup Kitchen Society.

Last year alone, Ateret Cohanim doubled the size of its holdings in the basin of the Old City, according to Ir Amim, and at least 75 more Palestinian families are facing a similar threat of eviction in Batan al-Hawa.

But Ir Amim notes that these settler groups have received enthusiastic support from senior government ministers as well as state bodies and security forces, which help forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes.

In fact, it is Israel’s General Custodian, a government body that purports to assume ownership of property and assets that comes into possession of the state, which has delivered the land and Palestinian properties into the hands of such private groups.

Over the last 15 years, the General Custodian has given this land to various Jewish trusts and settler groups, often without any tenders.

For example, in 2010 the Custodian handed the Sub Labans’ building to the trust.

These groups’ stated mission is to revitalize the Jewish presence in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in June 1967, formally annexing it in 1980, a decision that the UN Security Council has declared to be null and void. All of Israel’s settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem, violate international law.

While Ateret Cohanim denies any involvement in the eviction of the Sub Labans, the group has helped place at least 500 Jewish settlers in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City.

In the 19th century, religious Jews from Europe emigrated to Jerusalem and began to buy properties in the Old City. As University of Exeter politics professor Michael Dumper details, the purchases were often made by rabbis who raised funds to establish a kollel, or study group, that usually consisted of a synagogue and residential buildings.

These properties were abandoned in the early 20th century during the Palestinian revolts against British and Zionist colonization. After the 1948 war and the expulsion by Zionist militias of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, these empty properties were temporarily used to house refugees from the western part of Jerusalem.

Most of the properties in question, including the Sub Laban home, came under Jordanian control after the war. Until 1967, Jordanian authorities would lease land and properties to Palestinians like the Sub Labans. After Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the properties came under control of Israel’s General Custodian.

Palestinians remained as residents, but since the 1980s, private settler groups have tried to claim the properties for Jewish residents in close cooperation with official government bodies.

Over the last three decades, these groups have established a string of Jewish properties in the Muslim Quarter where they’ve evicted Palestinian families.

At the same time, Israel still refuses to allow hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled from their homes since 1948, and their descendants, to reclaim their properties and return to their homes.


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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.