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Bizarre Jerusalem family case shows peace, settlements incompatible

The bizarre case of the Sublaban family reflects how the Israeli settlement policy has spun out of control as a couple has been allowed to stay in its Jerusalem home for 10 years on condition that their children can’t stay with them.

Three days before the world community reiterated at the UN Security Council on Dec. 23 that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are unauthorized, the Israeli High Court was trying to justify the expulsion of a Palestinian family in Jerusalem’s Old City.

In responding to an appeal against the family's expulsion from the home it has lived in since 1953, the Israeli High Court ruled Dec. 20 that Mustafa and Nora Sublaban can stay in their home 10 more years — but on condition that their children can’t live with them so as not to transfer ownership to the third generation. A small storage room that also belonged to the family was granted to the hard-line settler movement that has been trying to expel the Sublaban family.

The Sublaban family has rented the home from the Jordanian government since 1953. Family members told Al-Monitor that since the 1970s, Jewish settler groups have eyed their home and have prevented them from all attempts to renovate or fix it, claiming that the house belonged to a Jewish family before 1948. The Jewish family that reportedly lived in the house before Israel was created is not part of the expulsion attempt; rather, a right-wing Jewish group called Kollel Galicia Trust is behind the attempt.

Mohammad Dahleh, the attorney for the Sublaban family, told Al-Monitor that the ruling is “unprecedented" and one of the strangest he has seen. “Allowing the woman who was born in this house to live in it for 10 years and preventing her children from being with her has never been ruled on by Israel’s highest court. They tried to appear to show justice to Nora Sublaban, while tying her hands as to how the house she has a right to can be used.”

Dahleh said that it will be hard to implement this decision. “Who will decide if her children are living in the house or not? Will the settlers put up cameras or hire a guard to record the goings and comings of the Sublaban family?” Dahleh asked.

A long article in The New York Times in January 2016 dealt with the issue of Palestinian families threatened with expulsion. It also exposed the major differences in applying law in Israel. “It is kicking the hornet’s nest of 1948,” Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer specialized in Jerusalem affairs, told the paper.

Seidemann told Al-Monitor that what happened to the Sublaban family revealed the rawest nerve in the conflict. “When Jews regain lost property even at the expense of Palestinian families, while Palestinians don’t have a similar right, this exposes one of the rawest nerves in the conflict.” Seidemann added that what makes things worse is that the people trying to recover these properties have “no direct connection” to the land and homes while victims “are people who live in these homes and have memories.”

The Jerusalem-based lawyer Dahleh said two different laws apply to the two communities when it comes to absentee property. “Jewish property left in areas under Jordan’s control were kept by the Jordanian government according to international law and were not disposed of, even though they were made available through rentals to local Palestinians. On the other hand, Israeli law prevents Palestinians from recovering their lost property lost in the same war.”

Seidemann said the latest UN Security Council resolution dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issues has a direct implication on what is happening in Jerusalem. “Resolution 2334 ruled that settlements are illegal and unlawful, and regardless of the legal mechanisms established by Israel that allows taking the property, the international community steps in and says it is illegal. Homes were lost on both sides during the war in the same city. The Israeli legal system can’t address one tragedy of the war while ignoring the other.”

Seidemann also tried to look at the Sublaban case from a political perspective. “The numbers of cases of individuals threatened with expulsion are not huge, but the impact is enormous because this applies the Jewish right of return while denying the Palestinian right of return. However way this conflict will be solved, it must be solved on equality. If you waive the right to go back to your ancestors’ home, it has to be on both sides,” Seidemann told Al-Monitor.

The UN’s humanitarian organization OCHA announced Nov. 3 that 180 Palestinian households in East Jerusalem have eviction cases filed against them.

UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted Dec. 23, considers all settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, to be unauthorized and part of the occupied territories. The Fourth Geneva Convention, which details how occupied areas are to be administered, bars people from the occupied power (in this case Israel) from moving into the occupied areas.

The case of the Sublaban family reflects the inability of Israelis to reconcile between peace and settlements. By referring the case to the High Court, the problem was not resolved but produced a strange and impractical solution. The sooner the Israelis are able to internalize the fact that settlements and peace are incompatible — as the latest UN Security Council resolution resolved and as US Secretary of State John Kerry stated in his speech Dec. 28 — the sooner we can begin the genuine search for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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