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Former Israeli attorney-general calls eviction of Sheikh Jarrah family ‘unjust’

Aug. 13, 2017 7:53 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 14, 2017 1:00 P.M.)
Palestinians sit infront of Shamasna family home in Sheikh Jarrah (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s former Attorney-General, Michael Ben Yair, has spoken out against the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, saying that the Israeli government should expropriate disputed properties in East Jerusalem and give them to the Palestinian inhabitants of the homes, who have lived there for decades.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that Ben Yair made the comments on Friday while speaking to a crowd of Palestinians who had gathered in solidarity in front of the home of the Shamasna family, who is facing imminent evacuation from their home of 53 years to make room for Israeli settlers claiming they own the family's home.

According to Israeli law, Jewish Israelis are permitted to claim ownership over property believed to have been owned by Jews before 1948 during Ottoman or British rule. However, such a law does not exist for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their lands and homes during and after the establishment of the state of Israel.

Israelis have also claimed that Sheikh Jarrah was once the site of a 19th century Jewish community.

“The current Israeli law that enables double compensation only for Jews for [lost] properties in East Jerusalem from the times before 1948 is unjust,” The Jerusalem Post quoted Ben Yair as saying, adding that the former attorney-general’s family owned properties in Sheikh Jarrah prior to 1948.

“If the Israeli government would have acted decently toward all its residents, including you (the Palestinian residents), it would have appropriated the properties in the neighborhood (from the alleged Jewish owners) and given these properties to the Palestinians who live there today,” Ben Yair said.

“My family and the family of my cousin who were forced to leave the neighborhood in January 1948 got properties of Palestinians refugees on Jaffa Road and in the Katamon neighborhood in west Jerusalem,” he added, saying “they were worth much more than the properties that we left in Sheikh Jarrah.”

The Jerusalem Post added that Ben Yair said if Israel conductrf land registration in Sheikh Jarrah, “he would demand that the ownership of the building that his family had would go to the Palestinians who live in it today.”

Some of the properties that had once been owned by Jews -- thousands of whom fled East Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war -- were repurposed by the Jordanian government, who took control over the territory following the war, to house some of the approximately 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from homes that were consumed by the new Israeli state.

However, when Israel took control over the territory after the Six-Day War in 1967, the Jordanian-controlled properties were transferred to Israel's general custodian.

Before 1967, the Shamasna family, who has lived in their home for 53 years after fleeing their village of Qatanna in 1948, had rented the property from the Jordanian government.

In 2009, when a wave of Israeli settler ownership claims targeted the neighborhood, the building’s custodian refused to renew the Shamasnas' lease, stating that the heirs of the Jewish homeowner had filed a lawsuit.

However, the family has refused to leave.

If the eviction plans are carried out, it would be the first eviction in the neighborhood since 2009, when the Um Kamel al-Kurd, Ghawi, and Hanoun families were evicted from their homes by Israeli settlers under similar ownership claims.

The 2009 evictions sparked widespread protests in Sheikh Jarrah. At the same time, a group of Israeli settlers took over the front section of the al-Kurd family home claiming that their ancestors had once owned the plot of land; eight years later, the family has continued to live side-by-side with the Jewish extremists.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction, mass demolitions of Palestinian homes, and stringent laws making it difficult for Palestinians to maintain their East Jerusalem residency.

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