Israeli law expert backs Palestinian property rights

August 16, 2017
Sarah Benton

See also House demolitions, forced displacement, denial of residency rights in Background and Analysis

Two pieces here, +972 and Ma’an.

Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah marched with Israeli activists, August 2017, to protest against the eviction of the Shamasna family from their East Jerusalem home. Photo by Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera

Former attorney general stands with Palestinians facing eviction

By Orly Noy, +972
August 13, 2017

Former Attorney General Michael Ben Yair, whose former family home in Jerusalem is now occupied by Palestinians facing eviction, says he will reclaim the property in order to legally hand it over to them.

The feeling of déjà vu that enveloped the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah last Thursday was especially sombre. Here we were, once again, standing around on a Friday afternoon, struggling against the eviction and dispossession of Palestinian families. Eight years have passed since the first wave of evictions and the large protests in the neighbourhood — eight years in which not a single family has been removed from their home. And now the clouds of dispossession are gathering once again, threatening the home of the Shamanseh family.

A Palestinian man during a weekly demonstration against Jewish settlements and impending evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, May 17, 2013. Photo by Flash90

Over the past decade Sheikh Jarrah has become one of the focal points of the attempt to Judaize East Jerusalem by messianic right-wing organizations. Doing so isn’t much of a task: in the war against the weakest residents of the city, the state gives its backing to those organizations.

What about the homes in West Jerusalem?

The backstory of the dispossession in Sheikh Jarrah captures the moral injustices that lie at the heart of the Zionist legal system. Until the 1948 war, the land on which some of the families live today belonged to Jews, just as neighbourhoods such as Talbiya and Bak’a, which became Jewish neighbourhoods after 1948, belonged to Palestinians. After the war, the homes that belonged to Jews were taken over by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property, which rented them out to Palestinians. After Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the land was transferred back to Jewish hands. This time, the Palestinian families remained in the homes, and began paying rent to the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property.

Jewish settlers display their ‘ownership’ of a Palestinian property they have seized in the Sheikh Jarrah district. Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

But as opposed to the original owners of the upscale “Arab homes” in Talbiya and Bak’a, who lost all legal rights to their property, Israel still allows the Jewish landowners in Sheikh Jarrah to reclaim their property, while evicting the Palestinians who have been living in those homes since the 1950s and 60s. A number of right-wing organizations, founded by right-wing extremist Arieh King, are working tirelessly to find either the original owners or their successors, while providing them with legal assistance to help reclaim the homes. The Israeli Custodian happily goes along with the charade.

Palestinians sit in front of the Shamasna home in Sheikh Jarrah. Undated. Ma’an Images

Several families have already been evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in precisely this manner. The Shamanseh family has lived in their home since 1964 After a long legal saga, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling by lower courts, ordering the family to be expelled from their home, with a grace period of 18 months, due to humanitarian concerns. Until two weeks ago, the family had not received an eviction order. The Shamanseh’s attorney managed to obtain a short-term injunction, which expired on Sunday morning, upon which he requested another injunction. There is no guarantee that the family will be able to remain in their home.

Over the past week, activists have flocked to the neighbourhood for demonstrations and to hold night shifts. On Wednesday last week, former Attorney General Michael Ben Yair, whose family lived in the neighbourhood until 1948, paid a visit the Shamanseh family. Ben Yair, who returned to his family’s former home, declared that he is willing to reclaim the house — just as right-wing organizations do — but instead of Judaizing it, he will transfer ownership over to the Palestinian family that lives there.

Former attorney general Michael Ben-Yair, photo by Yossi Gurvitz

Former Israeli attorney-general calls eviction of Sheikh Jarrah family ‘unjust’

Ma’an news
August 13/14 2017

BETHLEHEM — Israel’s former Attorney-General, Michael Ben Yair, has spoken out against the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, saying that the Israeli government should expropriate disputed properties in East Jerusalem and give them to the Palestinian inhabitants of the homes, who have lived there for decades.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that Ben Yair made the comments on Friday while speaking to a crowd of Palestinians who had gathered in solidarity in front of the home of the Shamasna family, who is facing imminent evacuation from their home of 53 years to make room for Israeli settlers claiming they own the family’s home.

According to Israeli law, Jewish Israelis are permitted to claim ownership over property believed to have been owned by Jews before 1948 during Ottoman or British rule. However, such a law does not exist for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their lands and homes during and after the establishment of the state of Israel.

Israelis have also claimed that Sheikh Jarrah was once the site of a 19th century Jewish community.

“The current Israeli law that enables double compensation only for Jews for [lost] properties in East Jerusalem from the times before 1948 is unjust,” The Jerusalem Post quoted Ben Yair as saying, adding that the former attorney-general’s family owned properties in Sheikh Jarrah prior to 1948.

“If the Israeli government would have acted decently toward all its residents, including you (the Palestinian residents), it would have appropriated the properties in the neighbourhood (from the alleged Jewish owners) and given these properties to the Palestinians who live there today,” Ben Yair said.

“My family and the family of my cousin who were forced to leave the neighbourhood in January 1948 got properties of Palestinians refugees on Jaffa Road and in the Katamon neighbourhood in west Jerusalem,” he added, saying “they were worth much more than the properties that we left in Sheikh Jarrah.”

The Jerusalem Post added that Ben Yair said if Israel conducted land registration in Sheikh Jarrah, “he would demand that the ownership of the building that his family had would go to the Palestinians who live in it today.”

Some of the properties that had once been owned by Jews — thousands of whom fled East Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war — were repurposed by the Jordanian government, who took control over the territory following the war, to house some of the approximately 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from homes that were consumed by the new Israeli state.

However, when Israel took control over the territory after the Six-Day War in 1967, the Jordanian-controlled properties were transferred to Israel’s general custodian.
Before 1967, the Shamasna family, who has lived in their home for 53 years after fleeing their village of Qatanna in 1948, had rented the property from the Jordanian government.

In 2009, when a wave of Israeli settler ownership claims targeted the neighbourhood, the building’s custodian refused to renew the Shamasnas’ lease, stating that the heirs of the Jewish homeowner had filed a lawsuit.

However, the family has refused to leave.

If the eviction plans are carried out, it would be the first eviction in the neighbourhood since 2009, when the Um Kamel al-Kurd, Ghawi, and Hanoun families were evicted from their homes by Israeli settlers under similar ownership claims.

The 2009 evictions sparked widespread protests in Sheikh Jarrah. At the same time, a group of Israeli settlers took over the front section of the al-Kurd family home claiming that their ancestors had once owned the plot of land; eight years later, the family has continued to live side-by-side with the Jewish extremists.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the “Judaization” of East Jerusalem through settlement construction, mass demolitions of Palestinian homes, and stringent laws making it difficult for Palestinians to maintain their East Jerusalem residency.

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