Court rules that the Shamasneh family must vacate property previously owned by Jews
A Palestinian family of eight members has been ordered by Israel’s Supreme Court to vacate a house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem. The family’s lawyer succeeded Tuesday in freezing the order for an additional five days, which gives the family until next week to leave the home.
The case centers on competing claims to the property, with the Shamasneh family saying it has lived there since 1964. However, Israel’s Custodian of Absentee Property, a department of the Justice Ministry, contends that the house was only rented in 1977, and so the family is not covered by an Israeli law—the “protected tenant” statute—which was passed in between. Accordingly, now that the house’s original Jewish owners have been found and are laying claim to the property, the Shamasnehs are being evicted.
The issue dates back to 2008, when Israeli authorities refused to renew the yearly contract with the family, and asked them to leave. A motion was subsequently filed in court demanding the removal of the Shamasnehs and in December 2012, a decision to remove the family from the home was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Speaking to The Media Line, Mohammed Shamasneh, who lives in the house, said that it is all part of a concerted plan to seek out properties and reassign them to Jews who owned them in the past, in a bid to replace Arabs with Jewish residents in east Jerusalem. Accordingly the Shamasnehs—father Ayoub, mother Fathyeh, and Mohammed’s family, which includes four children—have been protesting outside the home, along with neighbors and supporters, against what they deem an “unfair” ruling. They are refusing to pack up their belongings in response to the evacuation order.
Fathyeh, 75, told The Media Line that she first came to the house when she was in her 30s. “I spent decades in this house; I raised my kids here and am raising my grandsons now—how could they think they can remove me from my house?”
Mohammed Kiswani, a community leader, explained that more 70 Palestinian families are being threatened with evacuation from the Sheikh Jarrah area. “The Shamasneh family has been living in the house for more than 50 years. The occupation manipulated the fact that the Waqf [which previously dealt with land records] does not deal with Israeli courts, which can then assign properties to old Jews.” Kiswani believes that what is happening to Shamasneh family is part of a wider plan to increase “illegal Jewish settlements” in east Jerusalem.
“If we assume they have the right to give the houses back to Jews,” he affirmed, “why don’t they give back Palestinians their houses in western Jerusalem? This is ethnic cleansing.”
A retired lawyer, who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity, said the Shamasneh case is unusual, as evacuation orders generally occur as a result of secretive deals. “The owners sell their houses on condition that they be moved into only years after their deaths, but this was not what happened with the Shamsnehs.
“The Israeli courts support these kind of secretive contracts,” he concluded, “they legalize them to facilitate Jewish ownership of properties, which works against Palestinians.”
The Shamsnehs say they will continue to resist as the house represents much more to them than just cement and bricks—it is the embodiment of their past. “I saw my kids growing up in this house and getting married, now I live here with my husband and my son’s family, I will not leave this house till the last minute,” Fathyeh said.
For its part, Israeli police have asked the family to hand over keys to authorities. Speaking to The Media Line, Israel National Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld called the ordeal a “slandered procedure.”
“If they lost the case they have to leave, we usually notify them peacefully and inform them with the order. Regardless of the family or anything if there is an evacuation order, they have to leave.”
Otherwise, the Shamsnehs will be forcibly removed at their own financial—and emotional—expense.