Battle for Silwan: The Palestinian family fighting Israeli eviction in Jerusalem

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"I am afraid of this day, very afraid," Amal Sumarin tells The New Arab, referring to an impending Israeli order to evict her family from their home in Jerusalem's Silwan neighbourhood. 

Located adjacent to the Old City, and a stone's throw away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the Palestinian family of 16 has been locked in a 30-year legal battle to prove ownership of their home in Wadi Hilweh, an area coveted by Jewish settlers because of its proximity to holy sites. 

On 30 June, Israel's Jerusalem district court ruled that the Sumarin family must leave their property by 16 August, leaving them with nowhere to go. 

"They come to take a house that doesn't belong to them, a house that belongs to people from Silwan," Amal says. Now 57 years old, she spends her days sitting on the porch of her house, in full view of the Al-Aqsa mosque, praying and reading the Quran. "Where did they come from? Which country?" she asks loudly.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which promotes Jewish settlement in the Holy Land, bought the property from the state in 1991 after the home was seized under Israel's controversial Absentee Property Law of 1950.

Amal says the Israeli police showed up "suddenly at night" and erected a barrier between the home and her land. Short of money, the Sumarin family, who are well-established in Silwan, were unable to challenge the land seizure in court.

The Absentee Property Law allows the Israeli state to take control of any property whose owner lives in an "enemy state" and was used to confiscate the lands and homes of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced out during the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948.

"It [the JNF] was an important organisation that helped to establish the State of Israel," Hagit Ofran of anti-settlement NGO Peace Now told The New Arab.

"In recent years it has been used as a tool of the settlers to promote their agenda in East Jerusalem and the West Bank," she added. 

The Sumarin family say the home was built on land purchased in the 1950s - before Israel occupied the eastern part of the city in 1967 - by Haj Moussa, an uncle of Amal's husband.

Shortly after he passed away, the Israeli state declared the home to be 'absentee property' and put it under state control. 

At the time of his death Haj Moussa was being cared for by his nephew, Amal's husband, Muhammad Sumarin. With Haj Moussa's sons all travelling or living abroad, and therefore unable to prove that Jerusalem was their "centre of life", the property was seized.

Between 1967 and the end of 2016, Israel revoked the residency status of at least 14,595 Palestinians from East Jerusalem who moved outside of Jerusalem's municipal borders or studied or worked abroad for extended periods of time.

The Sumarin home lies adjacent to the 'City of David', an archaeological site in Wadi Hilweh set up by right-wing settler organisation Elad. The group's main focus is to settle Israeli Jews in Palestinian neighbourhoods around Jerusalem's Old City by facilitating shadowy property purchases in Silwan, Abu Tur, Ras al-Amud and Al-Tur.

But the group's management role of the archaeological project has come under criticism due to Elad's clear political agenda. 

"We know many houses that the JNF took eventually went to the Elad Association," Yonathan Mizrahi, the head of Emek Shaveh, told The New Arab. Emek Shaveh is an Israeli NGO working to prevent the politicisation of archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A representative from Elad was present in last month's court proceedings against the Sumarin family, although they are not a formal side in the case. 

"Their admission [to the court session] is an indication of their role and the intent of the KKL-JNF to transfer the home to Elad, should they succeed in possessing it," a statement issued by supporters of the Sumarin family said. 

The family is considering an appeal to the High Court against the eviction order, but their lawyer thinks their chances are slim. A request to appeal must first be submitted to a judge, who will then decide whether the High Court should discuss the case or not.  

"Most requests are rejected," Hagit Ofran told The New Arab

The case of the Sumarin family is an ominous example to other Palestinians living in areas of the West Bank slated for annexation by Israel.  

"The use of the Absentees' Properties Law in areas that were annexed to Israel in East Jerusalem in 1967, could be an indication to what can potentially happen to hundreds of thousands of dunams of private lands in the areas that Israel plans to annex," Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now has warned. 

"I am the son of this house. I was born here, I got married here, my children were born here," Amal's son Ahmad, 37, told The New Arab. All three of Amal's sons also live in the home, each with a family of their own. Ahmad's wife gave birth to their new daughter Mila just days ago. 

None of the family have made plans to leave the house on 16 August despite the looming eviction order. The High Court could be their final resort if the family's appeal is accepted, but Ahmad is not optimistic.  

"They have the means," he told The New Arab. "Unlike us, we are weak; we are just a family. They are an army of settlers, an army from the government, an army of lawyers. I mean, they have a long reach." 

Source: The investigation was carried out by Ibrahim Husseini and published by The New Arab, along with the cover photo.


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