Paying for your own eviction

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Paying for your own eviction

Like many Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, the Sumarin family is facing eviction under an Israeli law. Amy Hall reports:

Every year, Wardeh and Ahmad Sumarin watch as more of their neighbours are evicted. Their homes are sold on for houses for settlers.

The Sumarin family’s home is in the Wadi Hilweh neighbourhood, at the entrance to Silwan in East Jerusalem. It is a problem area: just south of the Old City walls, near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. It is also the location of the City of David, believed to be the site of the biblical city of Jerusalem.

The mainly Palestinian community of Silwan is an important place for Jewish settlement, helped by Israel’s Absentees’ Property Law. In 1967, Israel illegally annexed thousands of hectares of West Bank land into the city of Jerusalem and used Israeli law there.

Palestinians living there became ‘permanent residents’. This made them second class citizens. In June that year, Israel held a census in the annexed area – East Jerusalem – and any Palestinians who were away at the time (including those displaced by the occupying conflict), lost their right to return to their home.

Many Palestinian families evicted under this law did not know that their homes were ‘absentee’ property and sold on until legal proceedings were started against them to evict them.


The Sumarin family is evicted.

The Sumarin family – 13 people, including six children – are now facing homelessness because of this law. In 1991 there was a land deal between the authorities and Himnuta, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The organization has close links to the Israeli state which owns a big part of Israel’s land. Himnuta has been trying to evict the family since 1991.

Since the early 1990s some of the houses from this deal have been leased to the Israeli NGO Elad. Elad helps Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. And Jewish settlers have been moved in. Human rights group, B’Tselem, says that since the 1990s Elad, and other organizations, have moved 60 Jewish settler families – around 300 people – into the neighbourhood of Wadi Hilweh.

Ahmad says that Musa – the uncle of his grandfather – built their house in 1950. Musa’s sons were in Jordan in 1967 to escape the war. Ahmad says his grandfather and father lived in the house with Musa and that his grandfather bought it from Musa in 1981: ‘After he died Himnuta said that my grandfather and dad weren’t from the family and they said that it was their house.’ The house was then ‘absentee property’.

‘There are so many families with the same problem,’ says Wardeh. ‘Every year settlers take more houses under the same law. Israel’s law protects them and lets them take any house they want.’ Standing on the flat roof of the Sumarins’ home, the Israeli flags flying above occupied houses are clear to see.

Will the family receive any financial compensation for leaving their home?

No. Himnuta wants them to pay and has included in its legal claim a demand for the family to pay NIS 500,000 (Israeli New Shekels, equal to $137,000) for staying so many years on the land.

‘They say if you don’t pay they’ll take everything you have,’ says Wardeh.

Since 1967 hundreds of the family’s neighbours have been ordered to pay fines from thousands to tens of thousands of shekels (3.5 shekels equals 1US$).

The JNF receives money from people around the world. It was formed in 1901 to buy and develop land in Palestine for Jewish settlement. There is an international campaign against the organization’s role in occupation and apartheid, which also targets JNF organizations around the world, including the UK branch of the organization.

Seth Morrison was a JNF-USA Board member. In December 2011, he resigned in protest over the Sumarins’ case, and said that they were not the only family at risk. He wrote, ‘JNF has got other Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and often transferred these houses to Elad, a settler organization to “Judaize” East Jerusalem.’

The Sumarin family would like people outside Israel to put more pressure on the JNF. ‘People in Europe think that they give money to the JNF to plant trees, or to help poor people – for something good – but they don’t know that they take the money and use it to pay lawyers and take people’s houses,’ says Wardeh.

The Sumarins’ story is not new. In 2017, 86 homes in East Jerusalem were demolished – 10 in Silwan. 155 people were then homeless.

Amit Gilutz is a spokesperson for B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. He says that there is a big imbalance in giving public resources for Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, including health care. These communities are also restricted in terms of construction and development. ‘Israeli policy in occupied East Jerusalem is meant to move Palestinians out of the city,’ he says. ‘It makes people seem like unwelcome visitors in their own homes.’ Palestinians in Silwan are more and more made to live close to settlers who usually come with armed security, and sometimes violently harrass Palestinians. Many of the houses around the Sumarins have been occupied by settlers who have security guards with guns – ‘the security guards go everywhere with them,’ says Wardeh.

Gilutz explains that National Parks – like the Jerusalem Walls National Park, which includes the City of David – are part of the plan to limit the land available to Palestinians. There are four such national parks in East Jerusalem, including on privately owned Palestinian land. Wadi Hilweh – home to around 4,000 people – is almost completely inside the Jerusalem Walls National Park and the City of David is at its centre.

The City of David site has brought with it big restrictions on the open space for residents. There are traffic jams, more security people, including soldiers, and surveillance cameras.

The visitor’s centre for the site, which Elad is trying to expand, is next door to the Sumarins’ home. The visitor’s centre is organised by Elad. It also funds excavations in parts of the neighbourhood. Hundreds of tourists go to the neighbourhood each day, with crowds of people, and lots of buses and taxis in the narrow streets.

International pressure has already delayed the Sumarins’ eviction by several years, and the family are hoping the same can happen now or that it is stopped. They are expecting a court decision in the autumn.

Wardeh’s family also live just down the road, and the Sumarins don’t know what they will do if they are forced to leave.

‘We can’t imagine where we’ll go,’ says Wardeh. ‘We were born here, our family is here. Our work, children, and school are here.

‘I can’t tell you what we’ll do because my life is in Silwan.’

Amy Hall is part of Shoal Collective, a co-operative of writers and researchers writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism. Follow Shoal's work from Palestine and Israel at Corporate Occupation. The interview with the Sumarin family was by Shoal members Amy Hall, Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)