Israeli settler group gets legal go-ahead to evict 700 Palestinians

High court rejects appeal by Silwan residents to overturn ‘freeing’ up of their home land

The Silwan neighbourhood of eastern Jerusalem is being claimed by people with links to Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing Jewish association. Photograph: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty

The Silwan neighbourhood of eastern Jerusalem is being claimed by people with links to Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing Jewish association. Photograph: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty

 

An Israeli court has ruled that a right-wing settler organisation can continue legal proceedings to evict 700 Palestinians from east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighbourhood, even though the process by which it received rights to the land was flawed.

The high court rejected an appeal filed by 104 residents of Silwan, situated in a valley beneath Jerusalem’s old city, to overturn a September 2002 decision by the Custodian of Absentee Property to “free” the land on which they have lived for decades. The land was “freed” by people with links to Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing Jewish association that encourages Jews to move into Arab east Jerusalem.

The court sent the residents back to fight the civil proceedings that Ateret Cohanim has undertaken in order to evict them from their homes.

Even though the court ruled in favour of Ateret Cohanim, it criticised the Israeli authorities for transferring the land to the settlers without notifying the Palestinian residents or even bothering to find out who lived there. The court also urged the state to compensate any Palestinians who may be evicted.

Palestinians in Silwan

Up to 50,000 Palestinians live in Silwan alongside almost 3,000 Jewish religious settlers, but in recent years the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality have worked closely with Ateret Cohanim to evict Palestinians.

The Palestinian petitioners live in a part of Silwan that was populated by Jews who came from Yemen before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. During the Ottoman Empire, the neighbourhood in question was registered as belonging to a Jewish trust.

In 2001, the Jerusalem district court approved a government decision to appoint three members of Ateret Cohanim to run the trust – effectively giving the settler organisation control over the homes of 70 Palestinian families, comprising about 700 people.

Ateret Cohanim has already purchased a number of buildings in the neighbourhood and the first Jewish families have moved in. But the organisation claims it is not seeking confrontation.

Coexistence claims

“Ateret Cohanim is hoping that the current residents will understand the return to the Yemenite village and will welcome their Jewish neighbours. It is hoped that all will be able to live in coexistence in the area, as was the case prior to the Arab rioting of the previous century. As opposed to walls being built around Jerusalem, Ateret Cohanim believes in coexistence between peoples,” a statement by the group said.

The Israeli human rights group Btselem criticised the court ruling for failing to address the context.

“As though the land were not ‘freed’ by an association whose goal is to drive Palestinians out of their homes; as though the body of law does not allow Jews alone to file ownership for land abandoned in 1948; as though the court were not sanctioning the broadest move to dispossess Palestinians since 1967,” Btselem said in a statement.

“The judgment proves, yet again, that the Israeli high court gives its seal of approval to almost any infringement of Palestinians’ rights by the Israeli authorities.”