Illegal Evictions in the Old City Have Become Routine

Israeli police arrived in the Old City on the morning of Monday, March 16 to evict a third generation Palestinian family from their home.

Ahmed Sub Laban, a field researcher for Ir Amim, and his family have lived in their Old City apartment since 1953 when Ahmed’s parents began renting from the Jordanian Custodian for Enemy Properties, established as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After the Six-Day War in 1967, many of the properties came under the control of the Israeli General Custodian. However, Palestinian families that already had rental agreements before the war retained “protected tenant status,” which among other things entitles renters to protection from eviction.

photo credit: Flash90

Ahmed Sub Laban, a field researcher with Israeli NGO Ir Amim, holds a press conference with international and local journalists. His third generation Palestinian family is the last remaining in this neighborhood of the Old City which has been largely appropriated by Jewish Israeli settlers.

Jewish settlers in the Old City, backed by the Israeli government, have formed associations specifically to evict families so that settlers can move in. These associations identify properties that they deem easy to occupy, find settlers willing to move in, and wield enormous influence, keeping large sums of money on retainer for legal representation.

Police arrived, and were confronted by 50 activists, journalists & neighbors

Israeli police arrived at the Sub Laban home at 10 p.m. on March 15 with a notice to evict. When met with resistance, officers left the matter until the next morning when on March 16 at about 9 a.m. police gave the family two hours to leave the house. During this time, the Sub Laban family’s lawyer rushed to obtain an injunction in order to delay the eviction.

Meanwhile, about fifty activists and journalists as well as neighbors and friends had gathered, and when the police did arrive again at 11 a.m., a group of people filled the house and prepared to be forcibly removed by officers. The Sub Laban family was hospitable and opened their home to this group of relative strangers, resolving to use passive resistance to keep the family in their home.

In many cases in East Jerusalem, the law cited in eviction cases is one that came about after the 1967 war. It states that properties controlled by Jordan after 1948 and subsequently controlled by Israel, must be released to the original owner, pre-1948—oftentimes the owners in the Old City were Jews. The settler group currently petitioning for the eviction of the Sub Laban family has no connection to the Jewish family that originally owned the property. They are simply interested in creating a Jewish majority in the Old City.

Decision due on May 31

The settler group Ateret Cohanim first filed a petition in 2010 claiming that the Sub Laban residence was empty. An association of Jewish settlers, Ateret Cohanim aims to replace Palestinian residents of the Old City with Jewish settlers. The group won the ruling even though the Sub Laban’s were clearly tenants, but the family appealed and a decision is expected from the District Court on May 31, 2015.

Until that date, there are no legal grounds to forcibly evict the family.

photo credit: Flash90

Nora Sub Laban holds a sign protesting her family's eviction outside their home in the Old City.

Despite this status of the case, it was still necessary for Ahmed’s lawyer to obtain an injunction to keep the family in their home, as settler groups in general only regard the law when is advantageous for them to do so.

Scare tactics are used so frequently by the Israeli police, that even after the injunction was obtained and shown to police at the scene, the crowd was hesitant to leave because of speculation that police would use the calm to attempt eviction again.

There is a climate in the neighborhood, and even in the building, that is especially hostile to Palestinian tenants. The building of concern is currently inhabited by Jewish settlers on the top and bottom floors, with the Sub Laban family in the middle. Ateret Cohanim, whose slogan is “making the Old City young again,” is active in displacing Palestinian residents of the neighborhood.

Local Israeli law student Lail said that it is likely that the settlers cited in court some form of the Israel’s absentee property law, which uses a vague definition of residency in order to legally force Palestinians from their homes.

It is difficult to know for sure what kept the police from pursuing the eviction, but it is likely that the overwhelming presence of international media due to the Israeli elections which were held the next day, had a role in keeping the police from resorting to extreme measures.

Whatever the reason, there is no guarantee that Ahmed and his family will not be faced with the same situation in the coming months.