Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Monday against a petition by the Jewish National Fund supported by the City of David Foundation, also known as Elad, which works to increase the Jewish presence in the city, to evict the Palestinian Sumarin family from their home at the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The ruling overturned an earlier ruling by the Jerusalem District Court.
The legal struggle over the Sumarin family home has been going on for 32 years. The house is located in an area of the Silwan neighborhood that forms part of the City of David archeological site, which is managed by the Elad organization. In 1991 the Jewish National Fund, through its daughter company Himenota, petitioned the court to declare Moussa, the Sumarin family's patriarch, an “absentee” and the house “absentee property.” The procedure was not unusual and has been invoked to evict Palestinian residents since the 1950s, often concerning houses left behind by Palestinian families who fled their homes and settled in countries deemed enemies of the state during the 1948 war. Under that legal framework, the house was registered as such in 1991, leaving the house vulnerable to seizure by Elad.
Over the years, the Sumarin family has tried to prove that the house was not abandoned. The family did manage to establish that Moussa had not been an absentee, but Himenota got his children declared as such. Members of the Sumarin family failed to convince the court that they were the legitimate heirs of the deceased original owners of the house or that the original owners had authorized them to live in the building. Currently 18 Sumarin family members are living in the house.
On Monday the Supreme Court criticized the state’s previous registration of the house as absentee property while the owner was alive and a resident of Jerusalem. Human rights activists now hope the legal precedent will help halt other eviction orders affecting Palestinian families in Silwan.
The Elad group is working to buy properties inside the Palestinian Silwan neighborhood in order to bring in Jewish families.