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Former attorney general stands with Palestinians facing eviction

Former Attorney General Michael Ben Yair, whose former family home in Jerusalem is now occupied by Palestinians facing eviction, says he will reclaim the property in order to legally hand it over to them.

A Palestinian man is seen during a weekly demonstration against Jewish settlements and impending evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, May 17, 2013. (Flash90)

A Palestinian man is seen during a weekly demonstration against Jewish settlements and impending evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, May 17, 2013. (Flash90)

The feeling of déjà vu that enveloped the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah last Thursday was especially somber. Here we were, once again, standing around on a Friday afternoon, struggling against the eviction and dispossession of Palestinian families. Eight years have passed since the first wave of evictions and the large protests in the neighborhood — eight years in which not a single family has been removed from their home. And now the clouds of dispossession are gathering once again, threatening the home of the Shamanseh family.

Over the past decade Sheikh Jarrah has become one of the focal points of the attempt to Judaize East Jerusalem by messianic right-wing organizations. Doing so isn’t much of a task: in the war against the weakest residents of the city, the state gives its backing to those organizations.

What about the homes in West Jerusalem?

The backstory of the dispossession in Sheikh Jarrah captures the moral injustices that lie at the heart of the Zionist legal system. Until the 1948 war, the land on which some of the families live today belonged to Jews, just as neighborhoods such as Talbiya and Bak’a, which became Jewish neighborhoods after 1948, belonged to Palestinians. After the war, the homes that belonged to Jews were taken over by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property, which rented them out to Palestinians. After Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the land was transferred back to Jewish hands. This time, the Palestinian families remained in the homes, and began paying rent to the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property.

Palestinian residents confront Jewish settlers who have seized Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, September 2, 2011. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinian residents confront Jewish settlers who have seized Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, September 2, 2011. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

But as opposed to the original owners of the upscale “Arab homes” in Talbiya and Bak’a, who lost all legal rights to their property, Israel still allows the Jewish landowners in Sheikh Jarrah to reclaim their property, while evicting the Palestinians who have been living in those homes since the 1950s and 60s. A number of right-wing organizations, founded by right-wing extremist Arieh King, are working tirelessly to find either the original owners or their successors, while providing them with legal assistance to help reclaim the homes. The Israeli Custodian happily goes along with the charade.

Several families have already been evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in precisely this manner. The Shamanseh family has lived in their home since 1964 After a long legal saga, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling by lower courts, ordering the family to be expelled from their home, with a grace period of 18 months, due to humanitarian concerns. Until two weeks ago, the family had not received an eviction order. The Shamanseh’s attorney managed to obtain a short-term injunction, which expired on Sunday morning, upon which he requested another injunction. There is no guarantee that the family will be able to remain in their home.

Over the past week, activists have flocked to the neighborhood for demonstrations and to hold night shifts. On Wednesday last week, former Attorney General Michael Ben Yair, whose family lived in the neighborhood until 1948, paid a visit the Shamanseh family. Ben Yair, who returned to his family’s former home, declared that he is willing to reclaim the house — just as right-wing organizations do — but instead of Judaizing it, he will transfer ownership over to the Palestinian family that lives there.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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