Monday, November 30, 2020

Another family fights against losing their home to Israeli settlers in the Old City of Jerusalem

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By Mona Martin - March 19, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [Eviction]

Photos by Ruairi Henchy.

Urgent: Call for Protective Presence

“We were just informed by Israeli police that we will be evicted from our house in the Old City of Jerusalem tomorrow morning. Protective presence is required as of 8 am or earlier if possible. Please spread the word.” Rafat Sub-Laban, 15 March 2015

The above call for support appeared on Facebook on Sunday. Rafat Sub-Laban, a 26-year-old student of human rights at al-Quds University, and his family of eight people, had just received an eviction order at their house in the old city of Jerusalem. 

“At 8.30am settlers arrived with the police to take over the house. When we didn't open the door, they threatened to break it,“ Rafat told the Palestine Monitor, a few hours after he and his family – with the support of human rights activists and journalists – managed to turn away the immediate danger of being forced to leave their house. By the end of the day, the court stayed the eviction order, leaving the final demolition until after the Israeli elections on Tuesday. 

The settlers, accompanied by Israeli police, had been on the verge of breaking the door when the family's lawyers arrived, pointing to the appeal Rafat’s family had filed against the eviction order. 

This is not the first time the family has been confronted with the direct threat of being evicted from their home. In the beginning of February 2015, Israeli settler leader Eli Itay, from the extremist settler organization Ateret Cohanim, along with an alleged lawyer, made a first try to evict Rafat Sub-Laban and his family.  

During the attempted eviction in February 2015, even when Rafat's lawyer managed to make it clear to the settlers and the police that there was no legal basis for the family’s expulsion and that the family was in the process of appealing the eviction order issued by the Israeli Magistrate’s Court back in September 2014, the settlers kept trying. Eventually they left, realizing that with the journalists and activists in and around the house, they wouldn't succeed. Before they left, Rafat Sub-Laban told the Palestine Monitor that he overheard a policeman say to a settler among the group, “that they ought to come back in the night when we are asleep and no journalists or activists are around.“

Rafat’s older brother, Ahmad, told the Palestine Monitor that the property is legally theirs, and thus, they should have the right to stay. “There is a clear discrimination law that allows the Israelis to claim property that belonged to Jews before 1948, “ he said, “but the same law does not allow Palestinians to get their property back from which they were expelled in West Jerusalem or even the lands of 48.”

“It’s sure that when they tried to evict us one day before the elections that it was a message for the settlers who they’re trying to get votes from that they are supporting [Jewish] settlement in Jerusalem,” argued Ahmad.

According to Haaretz, the house used to be owned by Jews, when in 1950 the Jordanian government gave the house to the Sub-Laban family. After Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, all property in East Jerusalem fell into Israel’s hands.  “Unlike Palestinian refugees who left their property on the western side of the Green Line and cannot demand their property back,” Haaretz columnist Nir Hasson wrote, “Jews who abandoned property on the eastern side of the Green Line are legally allowed to demand its return.”

In the 1980s, the Jerusalem Municipality ordered the family to do restoration work on their home, but the Israeli custodian wouldn’t allow them to proceed. Rafat told the Palestine Monitor that “no reasons were given” at the time. “It's simply a matter of policy to refuse allowing Palestinians living in such property to hold any maintenance work and to force them to either leave the house or hold the maintenance without a permit, which would revoke their protected tenancy status,” said Rafat. “Many families have been evicted for conducting maintenance work without a permit.” 

Rafat’s family was forced to move out of the house for safety reasons. “We had to relocate temporarily because the house needed the maintenance, and also because when settlers took over the house next door in the 1980s, they expanded their house at the expense of our house's entrance, thus blocking access to our house. The only access was through the settlers kitchen, by jumping through their window,” explained Rafat.

Soon after Rafat’s family had left the house, the Israeli custodian evicted all the Palestinian neighbors in the building through court orders, and settlers quickly took over their homes. The Palestinian tenants – the Sub-Laban family among them – were barred from returning. 

After a 20 year legal battle in Israeli courts, the Sub-Laban family was finally permitted to move back into their home in 2001.  “An Israeli judge in charge of our case against the guardian of absentee property visited the house. He ruled in our favor to hold the maintenance required and reopen the house [to us],” Rafat told the Palestine Monitor.

In 2010, the guardian of absentee property transferred ownership of the house from Israel’s custodian to a trust working with the extremist settler organization Ateret Cohanim, an organization that aims to increase the Jewish presence in the Jerusalem’s Old City, “under very suspicious conditions,” Rafat said. “No one knows how the property was passed.”

“The court, the police and Israeli authorities take their part for granted in all this - no questions asked,” Rafat argued, symbolizing the often found Palestinian desperation when confronted with Israel’s legal maze.

The last step in the legal battle was when the District Court ruled in October 2014 that the Sub-Labans were absentees. The judgement hinged on the eyewitness testimonies of two Palestinians, one of whom testified in court that the Sub-Laban family was not living in the house. Ahmed would not be drawn on their identity, only saying that they were “Palestinian collaborators.”

Meanwhile, the battle against eviction goes on in Jerusalem, and includes many more than the Sub-Laban's family.  208 people were displaced due to Israeli authority imposed demolitions and evictions in occupied East Jerusalem in 2014. In 2013, the number was even higher, at 298 people.

Ahmed Sub Laban told the Palestine Monitor that their family lawyer appealed to the Israeli High Court on Thursday March 19 to compel the police to postpone the eviction until the High Court’s final decision on May 31. “We hope we are successful,” he said. “If not, the police can come to evict us any time because they already decided not to wait for the court decision when they came on Monday.”

The Sub-Laban’s family lawyer told Haaretz the evacuation would most likely be postponed until the Israeli High Court hears the family's petition in about two months, despite the fact that the Jerusalem District Court recently rejected the family's request to delay the evacuation.

For anyone interested in following the Sub-Laban family’s battle, please check out Rafat’s Facebook page

*Additional reporting by Ruairi Henchy 


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