RAMALLAH, November 30 (JMCC) - The Sumarin family has received a short court reprieve from eviction from its Silwan home--the only home it has ever known.
But in mid-December, the Sumarins will again face being forced out of their house if an arm of the Jewish National Fund chooses to take over the property that it says it owns.
In this feature
, The Independent
traces the legal battle that transferred the house in this coveted part of Jerusalem into Israeli hands, and then proceeded to threaten its Palestinian occupants.
Like so many Palestinians who have lost their homes in recent years, the Sumarins are victims of an old Israeli law that allows the state to confiscate property of absentee Palestinian owners living in an enemy state following the creation of Israel in 1948. Problematically, the law predates 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, and those states classified as enemy states include the occupied West Bank, Jordan (which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994) and almost every other Arab nation.
When the owner of this house – Mr Sumarin's uncle – died in 1984, somebody spotted an opportunity. The owner's sons, the legal heirs to the property, then lived in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, while Mr Sumarin and his family continued to live in the property with permission of their relatives.
The Custodian for Absentee Properties confiscated the house a few years later with the help of the 1950s law, subsequently transferring it to Himnuta. In 1991 began a lengthy court process that would drag on for 15 years. The Sumarins initially fended off the action by Himnuta, but a negligent lawyer failed to defend an action against them in 2005, not even informing the family that a suit to evict them had been filed. The Israeli court ruled in favour of Himnuta, and ordered the family to pay Himnuta 1 million shekels (£170,300) in rent and interest, which has since risen to 2 million shekels (£340,600).
Technically, Israel is acting within the bounds of its own law, but it is, claims Daniel Siedeman, an Israeli human rights lawyer, a transparently government-backed settler endeavour which is of highly questionable legality. A system that operates in such a way is not driven by the... law but the calculus of a national struggle, he adds.
Since the early 1990s, Himnuta has taken legal ownership of at least eight Palestinian properties in Silwan, and in almost every case documented by Israeli activists has leased them to El'ad, a registered charity funded by wealthy donors whose identities are shielded by a web of offshore companies. Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich attended a 2005 fundraiser for the group, according to Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
El'ad, which declined to comment specifically on the Himnuta case, because it is not directly involved, has been open about its vision for the neighbourhood. In an interview with an Israeli publication four years ago, director Doron Speilman gestured towards Silwan and said: Our goal is to turn this land you see behind you into Jewish hands.