Israel expels Palestinian family from their Jerusalem home

Nora Sub Laban in her family’s home in the Old City of Jerusalem in December 2022.

Saeed Qaq APA images

Israeli police expelled a Palestinian family from their home of more than 70 years in Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday.

The Ghaith-Sub Laban family’s apartment is now occupied by Jewish settlers after an Israeli court order.

The court ruling ended the protected tenancy of Nora Ghaith, 68, and Mustafa Sub Laban, 72.

Ajith Sunghay, the head of the UN human rights office in the West Bank and Gaza, said that the eviction of the couple “may amount to forcible transfer … a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime.”

The human rights office added that “international humanitarian law prohibits Israel from imposing its own laws in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, which includes the use of Israeli laws to evict Palestinians from their homes.”

The UN body noted that the expulsion of the Ghaith-Sub Laban family is part of a broader effort to force Palestinians out of the eastern sector of Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in violation of international law.

Some 150 Palestinian families in the city – around 1,000 individuals – are threatened with “eviction and forcible transfer due to discriminatory laws and state collusion with settler groups,” the UN added.

An organization linked to Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing settler group, had been seeking possession of the Ghaith-Sub Laban property since 2010. But the battle over the home has been ongoing for 45 years as the state has attempted to seize it for Jewish settlement.

It is hardly the first time that an Israeli court has ruled in favor of settlers seeking the eviction of Palestinians from their Jerusalem homes.

Palestinians have long pointed out that Israel’s judiciary – which protesters have been seeking to protect from Benjamin Netanyahu’s overhaul – rubber stamps violations of their rights.

Decades of struggle

Israeli settlers already resided in other apartments in the building from which the Ghaith-Sub Laban family was removed on Tuesday.

Ahmad Sub Laban told The Electronic Intifada in 2015 that his grandparents moved into the home in 1953, renting it from a Jordanian body established to administer property taken from or abandoned by Jews in the West Bank before the state of Israel was declared in 1948.

Their lease allowed for the family’s tenancy to be protected as long as Nora Sub Laban, who was born in the home, and her heirs live there.

When Israel occupied the eastern sector of Jerusalem in 1967, the property fell under the authority of the state.

Since then, Israel has endeavored to revoke the Ghaith-Sub Laban’s protected tenancy status and push the family out. Two other Palestinian families were forced from the same building in the late 1970s and the Israeli settlers who moved in eventually blocked the Ghaith-Sub Laban family from accessing the property.

They lived in another neighborhood for 16 years until a court order allowed them to access their home again.

The family’s troubles began anew in 2010 when the Israeli Guardian of Absentee Property transferred ownership of the home to an entity that eventually became the Kollel Galicia Trust. That trust has deep ties to Ateret Cohanim, a settler group dedicated to colonizing the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City – a goal shared by the state.

A 1970 law allows Israelis to reclaim property owned by Jews before the state of Israel was declared in 1948. Many of the properties that settlers are seeking to seize under this law house Palestinians who fled or were expelled from the western sector of Jerusalem in 1948.

By contrast, the state prohibits Palestinians from recovering vast amounts of land and property seized during, before and after Israel’s founding.

Toothless concern

Foreign diplomats had visited the Ghaith-Sub Laban family ahead of their forced eviction. But absent any meaningful pressure on Israel, international concern does little to protect Palestinians in a situation of total impunity.

On Tuesday, the European Union stated that “we regret the decision by the Israeli authorities, following a court decision, to evict the Ghaith-Sub Laban family from the home they occupied since 1953.”

The British consulate in Jerusalem said that it was “appalled” by the eviction, adding that “such actions cause unnecessary suffering … and risk inflaming inter-communal tensions.”

The consulate employed a familiar rhetorical device whereby it condemns an Israeli action because it might inflame tensions, rather than explicitly saying that it violates international law – thus compelling the UK to seek accountability.

Palestinians described the expulsion of the Ghaith-Sub Laban family as a “second Nakba” or a continuation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine around the time of Israel’s establishment.

On Tuesday, Yonatan Yosef, a member of Jerusalem’s city council and a settler activist, tweeted a photo of himself smiling while holding an Israeli flag inside the Ghaith-Sub Laban family’s home. The photo was accompanied by the text “Nakba now” in Hebrew.

The Associated Press news agency paraphrased Arieh King, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem who is also a settler, saying that “it was a day to celebrate.”


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.