Tomorrow, May 26, a hearing will take place at the Jerusalem District Court on the appeals of seven families from Batan al-Hawa, Silwan, challenging the Magistrate's Court decision from last year which authorized their eviction in favor of settlers. The Nasser Rajabi and Abed al-Fatah Rajabi families (7 households), numbering 44 individuals, are among approximately 84 families in Batan al-Hawa currently facing eviction lawsuits, which place some 700 Palestinians of one community at risk of mass displacement.
These eviction procedures are being carried out in tandem with the pending evictions in Sheikh Jarrah where settlers are exploiting the same legal mechanism in an attempt to uproot a total of some 70 Palestinian families for the purpose of expanding Jewish settlement in the neighborhood. In recent weeks, this has spurred global public outcry and contributed to the unrest in Jerusalem and across the region. In both Batan al-Hawa and Sheikh Jarrah, roughly 150 families, amounting to over 1000 individuals, are under threat of wide-scale dispossession as a result of eviction claims initiated by settler groups. Forced evictions of Palestinians and settler takeover of their homes are bolstered by touristic settlement sites to forge a ring of Israeli control around the Old City area, which together serve to erode the Palestinian presence and undermine any negotiated resolution on Jerusalem.
Settler Co-optation of a Jewish Trust
The eviction demands in Batan al-Hawa are being filed by the Ateret Cohanim settler organization on behalf of the Benvenisti Trust—a Jewish trust which allegedly held title to properties in Batan al-Hawa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Despite having no relation to the original trust and/or previous Jewish occupants, two members of the organization were appointed by the state as trustees to the Benvenisti Trust in 2001. The Israel General Custodian, the Israeli body responsible for managing assets which may have belonged to Jews prior to 1948, subsequently released two plots of land (5.2 dunams) into the organization's possession in 2002.
From this platform, Ateret Cohanim has been initiating mass eviction proceedings against Palestinian families in this area based on the exploitation of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970. This discriminatory legal mechanism affords Jews the exclusive right to reclaim assets in East Jerusalem lost during the war of 1948 via the General Custodian. No parallel legal provision exists for Palestinians to recover properties in West Jerusalem lost in the same war. On the contrary, the 1950 Absentee Property Law enshrines that Palestinians who were forced to abandon their homes in Israel due to the war of 1948 cannot retrieve them. Moreover, most Jews who lost assets in East Jerusalem were compensated at the time with alternative properties in West Jerusalem; they are hence essentially entitled to double compensation under the 1970 law.
Since the beginning of 2020, the Israeli courts have ruled to evict a total of 24 Palestinian families from Batan al-Hawa. All families are in various stages of appeal proceedings. In two cases involving eight families (Duweik, Shweiki, Odeh) which have reached the Supreme Court level, the court has sought the opinion of the Attorney General of Israel. Following several requests for extensions by the Attorney General, the court gave him until May 31 to respond.
These measures of displacement not only carry acute humanitarian ramifications and constitute a grave violation of human rights, but likewise erode conditions necessary for any future political resolution on the city.