Jerusalem family fights against all odds to prevent eviction

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Originally published on Ma’an News Agency on April 22, 2015.

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — On a small alley in Jerusalem’s Old City, a Palestinian family is fighting both Israeli government and Jewish settler pressure to stay in a home they have lived in more than half a century.

After a day of fighting with police and Jewish settlers bent on kicking them out of the house, on Monday evening the eight members of the Sub Laban family breathed a sigh of relief after an Israeli court stayed their eviction order.

But the victory is short-lived. The court said only that the eviction will be frozen until after Tuesday’s parliamentary elections, and family members are already bracing for the renewed attempt to force them out, which they expect to come Wednesday morning, if not earlier.”

All of the apartments around us and even in our own building are now inhabited by Jewish settlers,” the family’s son Rafat Sub Laban told Ma’an during an interview at the home. “In the 1970s and 80s they started taking them over one by one, and now we are the only Palestinians left here.

“The attempted eviction Monday was the second in just over a month, and the family is becoming increasingly fearful that the chances of being able to stay in their home are rapidly diminishing.

(Rafat Sub Laban)

Settlers aim for Jewish-majority Old City

A settler organization named Ateret Cohanim has been trying to push them out of the home since 2010, Sub Laban told Ma’an, but pressure has increased rapidly in the last 40 days.

At issue in the case is the fact that the home was owned by a Jewish landlord prior to the 1948 outbreak of hostilities, when almost all Jews fled the Old City for Zionist-controlled West Jerusalem when war broke out.

The Sub Laban family moved into the house in 1956, when they entered into a protected lease agreement with the Jordanian government custodian that took over “absentee” property following the war. When Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967, the Sub Laban family renegotiated the agreement — which entitles them to stay in the house even after the lease lapses and to pass it on as well — with the Israeli custodian.

In the 1980s the family says they were mandated by the government to perform restoration work on the house, and when they temporarily moved out to allow the work, they were prevented by settlers from returning for 15 years. In 2000, they finally managed to move back in. But a decade later an Israeli court sided with the settler group Ateret Cohanim’s assertion that the Sub Laban family had “abandoned” the home by not residing in it during the years when they were prevented from entering.

The settler movement also believes that any property that was Jewish at any point in the past should be given to Jewish owners, and thus they consider the Sub Laban’s residency illegitimate. They also have a stated goal of creating a Jewish majority in the overwhelmingly Palestinian Old City.A friend of the family who came over Tuesday to lend the family support argued that the Israeli court’s attitude toward the case smacked of racist double standards.

“Israel says they want to return this home to Israeli ownership. But then Israel should also give back those homes that Israel took from Palestinian owners in 1967 who fled because of the war,” the friend — who gave his name only as Muhammad for fear of government reprisal — told Ma’an.

“The settler groups take over homes and give them to Jews and allow them to live there, and the groups even pay people to live in the homes,” he told Ma’an.

“You have not only the construction of new settlements around Jerusalem, but also a policy of replacement, in which the government bring Jews in to replace individual Palestinians,” he argued.

When Israel took over Jerusalem in 1967 it summarily evicted thousands of Palestinians from the Old City, in addition to the thousands of others who fled out of fear. Their properties were taken over and many given to Jews, and Israeli authorities refuse to consider returning them. Instead, Israeli courts have largely supported recent efforts by Jewish settler groups to expel even more Palestinians from their homes to make room for new Jewish settlements.

This policy also stands in direct contrast to the demands of Palestinian refugees, who insist that those lands and properties confiscated by authorities in what became Israel in 1948 should be returned to them and they should be allowed to return. In effect, while an Israeli Jew can petition a court to evict a Palestinian family in a home that belonged to Jews prior to 1948 in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian cannot petition a court to evict a Jewish family in a home that belonged to Palestinians prior to 1948 in West Jerusalem.

Family members and friends rest in the family room. (MaanImages/Alex Shams)

Rafat and his nephew in the courtyard. (MaanImages/Alex Shams)

‘A methodical policy of apartheid’

The issue of absentee property is only one aspect of the situation the Sub Laban family find themselves in, however.

The Israeli government has a stated aim of “Judaizing” Jerusalem, which means ensuring eternal Jewish control over the city through a policy of limiting Palestinian rights to residency and construction while building homes specifically for Jews across the city.

“What is happening today in Jerusalem is just one part of a methodical policy of apartheid being practiced by Israeli authorities against the people of Jerusalem,” Muhammad told Ma’an.

He noted that the Sub Laban family, if kicked out of their home, would be forced to move to the West Bank, since Israeli authorities’ systematic refusal to approve construction permits for Palestinians in Jerusalem has led to a severe lack of available, affordable homes in the city for non-Jews.

Due to Israel’s “Center of Life” policy exclusively applied to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, meanwhile, if the Sub Laban family lives outside of Jerusalem for a minimum of seven years, their right to Jerusalem residency will be revoked, and neither they nor their children will ever be able to freely enter or live in the city they were born in ever again.

In effect, if the settlers successfully kick the Sub Labans out of their home in the coming days, a family that traces its roots in Jerusalem back centuries will be forever displaced, replaced by recent Jewish immigrants.”This is expulsion under the cover of the legal mechanisms of the Israeli occupation’s authority,” Muhammad told Ma’an.

(MaanImages/Alex Shams)

The laundry of the settler family above hangs down into the courtyard.(MaanImages/Alex Shams)

A view of one of the settlements above their home. (MaanImages/Alex Shams)

The view from the home’s roof. (MaanImages/Alex Shams)