Two days ago, on January 30, the Enforcement and Collection Authority's registrar published its decision in favor of evicting the Salem family from Sheikh Jarrah. The registrar approved the request submitted by the police and the settler who claims ownership of the home for an eviction order with a flexible implementation date. According to the decision, the eviction can be carried out anytime between March 1 and April 1, 2022 on condition that the family receives an official eviction notice at least 21 days before it is executed. Eviction orders with flexible implementation dates are employed to retain an element of surprise in order to reduce anticipated opposition and create ease for the authorities to complete the eviction. The registrar also ordered that the Salem family pay 5,000 shekels for legal expenses.
The Salem family, comprised of 11 individuals, including four children have been under imminent threat of eviction from their home in the western section of Sheikh Jarrah (Um Haroun) after receiving an eviction order in early December 2021. While formally issued by the Enforcement and Collection Authority, the eviction notice was delivered to the family by two key settler activists and Jerusalem City Council members, Deputy Mayor Aryeh King and Jonathan Yosef
. Yosef claims to have purchased at least part of the home from Jews who allegedly owned the property prior to 1948. That eviction order has since expired, and as mentioned above, in its place, the Enforcement and Collection Authority approved the request for a new eviction order with a flexible implementation date.
In the Um Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah, there was a small Jewish community, comprised of approximately 40 families, who were instructed to evacuate the neighborhood in the 1948 War. Having been forced to abandon their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the families were compensated by the Israeli government with alternative properties (formerly belonging to Palestinian refugees) and resettled in West Jerusalem. During the same war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced and lost their homes on the Israeli side of the Green Line, a very few of whom were resettled in East Jerusalem by the Jordanian government, including in Sheikh Jarrah. After the 1948 War, the Jordanian government assumed management of all abandoned Jewish properties in East Jerusalem and utilized some of them for the rehabilitation and resettlement of Palestinian refugees. According to the Salem family, after being uprooted from their land in Jaffa in 1948, they took up residence in their current home in 1951, paying rent to the Jordanian government under a protected tenancy agreement.
One-Way Land Reclamation via Discriminatory Laws
Following Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the aforementioned assets, including the Salem family's home, were transferred into the management of the Israeli General Custodian, who continued to lease the properties to their Palestinian occupants. However, in 1970, Israel enacted the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which afforded Jews the exclusive right to reclaim assets in East Jerusalem lost in 1948 and now inhabited by Palestinians despite many having already been compensated with alternative homes in West Jerusalem. It should be noted that no parallel legal mechanism exists for Palestinians to recover properties lost in areas within the Israeli side of the Green Line. To the contrary, the 1950 Absentee Property Law enshrines that Palestinians who lost their homes in Israel due to the 1948 War cannot retrieve them. As such, Jews are essentially entitled to double compensation under the 1970 law since the majority of those who lost homes in East Jerusalem were afforded alternative housing in West Jerusalem at the time.
Over the years, settler groups working closely with state bodies, including the General Custodian, have exploited this discriminatory law to file eviction lawsuits against Palestinian families in order to seize their homes for Jewish settlement despite having no connection to the previous Jewish owners or occupants of the properties. These groups act to secure land ownership rights through various means, which provide them with a legal platform to initiate eviction proceedings against Palestinian families who have been residing in the homes for decades. More than 150 Palestinian families, totaling over 1000 individuals, in both Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan stand to be displaced, many for a second time, as a result of these eviction claims.
The Salem Family's Case
The Salem family's case dates back to a 1988 court ruling which ordered their eviction in favor of the heirs of the property's alleged Jewish owners. For reasons unknown to Ir Amim, the verdict was never enforced, and the family continued to reside on the property. The court file has since been incinerated and therefore it is difficult to ascertain the details of the ruling in its entirety. In more recent years, however, settlers, including City Councilman Jonathan Yosef, acquired the rights to at least a portion of the Salem family's home and now demanding their eviction based on the 1988 ruling.
Although the Selam family's legal representation may appeal the Enforcement and Collection Authority's decision authorizing the family's eviction and request an injunction to freeze it, there is no guarantee the court will approve such a request. The family's attorney has hence made it clear that the remaining legal remedies are extremely limited. Therefore the only real effective means of preventing the family's impending displacement is through state intervention. Continued public pressure and concerted engagement with the Israeli government on this matter is hence vital.
It should be underscored that these eviction lawsuits are being carried out alongside formal land settlement of title procedures, which the Israeli government has initiated in East Jerusalem for the first time since 1967 and largely spearheaded by the General Custodian. In April 2021, Ir Amim uncovered that the Israeli government had initiated these procedures in Um Haroun
, Sheikh Jarrah, formally registering the title of properties to alleged Jewish owners without the Palestinian residents' knowledge, which can further ease settler takeovers of these assets. These processes are being conducted within the framework of 2018 Government Decision No. 3790
, a five-year plan, which aims to ostensibly reduce socio-economic disparities and promote economic development in East Jerusalem. Although depicted as a measure to theoretically aid Palestinian residents, the settlement of title procedures rather serves as a tool to further confiscate Palestinian properties, leading to the expansion of Israeli settlement and widespread Palestinian dispossession in the city.
Indeed, as recently revealed, the General Custodian appears to not only be facilitating settler takeovers of Palestinian properties, but now in an unprecedented manner also advancing plans for new Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem
Beyond further undermining any future resolution on Jerusalem and prospect for peace, these actions constitute a violation of human rights and carry an acute humanitarian impact on the families. Amplified engagement with the Israeli government is therefore necessary to block these processes of forced displacement.
How the Israeli Government Can Intervene