Raafat Sub Laban, 27, is a legal researcher who was born and raised in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s historical Old City. Although his grandparents moved into their home more than six decades ago and passed it on to his mother, the Sub Laban family is now facing an eviction order to make way for Israeli settlers.
Standing outside an Israeli court in East Jerusalem, Raafat explained that his family “has nowhere else to go”, adding that his parents, siblings and their children all live in the house. “There are nine of us, including two children aged three and nine years old,” Raafat told Al Jazeera. “Where are we supposed to go? This is our home.”
In 1953, the Sub Laban family rented the home from the Jordanian government, which controlled East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank until Israel occupied those territories during the 1967 war.
Through the Israeli government’s Custodian General of Absentee Property, a body that manages homes and lands confiscated by Israel, the family was informed that ownership of the homes was transferred to Israeli settlers who later claimed it had been registered as hekdesh, or Jewish religious property, prior to 1948.
Raafat and his family suspect that Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing nonprofit organisation that seeks to replace Palestinian residents of the city with Jewish-Israeli settlers, is involved in the efforts to take over their home. Daniel Lurie, executive director of Ateret Cohanim, denied the organisation’s involvement. “Ateret Cohanim has no connection to the case in question,” Lurie told Al Jazeera by email.
More than 300,000 Palestinians live in occupied East Jerusalem. Israel claims to have annexed the territory
in 1980, but that move is not recognised by the international community. More than half a million Israelis live in Jewish-only colonies scattered across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Rights groups say the uptick in forced evictions, arrests, and home demolitions is part of a broader web of Israeli policies designed to push Palestinians out of Jerusalem.
“Increased numbers of arrests and forced evictions prove that the [Israeli] government remains committed to minimising the city’s indigenous Palestinian population and expanding illegal Israeli presence,” Rima Awad, a member of the Jerusalemites Campaign, a group that advocates for Palestinian rights in the city, told Al Jazeera.
The Sub Laban family was secure in their home until last year, when an Israeli court stripped them of their status as protected tenants on the grounds that they hadn’t been consistently living in the home and had allegedly neglected it.
The settlers have also argued for the Sub Lubans’ eviction by evoking an Israeli law permitting Jews to make claim to Palestinian property that was registered under Jewish ownership before Israel’s establishment. Passed in 1970 and deemed the East Jerusalem Law, it allows owners to evict residents who have not consistently lived on the premises or paid rent.
Settlers have knocked on their door twice this year and tried to take over the property, first in February and again in March. “The first time activists and friends blocked them from entering the home,” Raafat recalled. “The second time our lawyer was able to obtain a temporary injunction to prevent the evacuation from taking place.”
“Our home is just one of 15 in East Jerusalem presently facing evacuation for Jewish settlers to move in,” Raafat added. Israeli authorities also regularly demolish Palestinian homes across East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
Noura Sub Laban, Raafat’s mother, appealed the eviction order in an Israeli court on May 31. Standing in front of the judges, her lawyer, Mohammed Dahleh, argued on her behalf. “The core evidence purporting that [Sub Laban family] wasn’t living in the house is weak,” he said, pointing out that the family has paid the house’s telephone, electricity and water bills consistently. “The court should reverse its decision to allow the evacuation.”
Along with Elad, another Israeli settler group, Ateret Cohanim filed a lawsuit earlier this month demanding the eviction of another Palestinian family in the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Those groups claim the Rajabi family is living in a building that was purchased by a Jewish religious trust 134 years ago.
Although he declined to comment on the pending eviction of the Rajabi family, Ateret Cohanim’s Daniel Luria
said: “Any Jew, as an integral part of the only indigenous people of this Land, have the right to purchase, and live in peace anywhere, in his ancestral homeland, especially in the heart of Israel – Jerusalem.”
Back in October 2014, Ateret Cohanim assisted nine Jewish settler families to take over two buildings in Silwan. With the protection of security guards provided by Elad, the settlers forcibly took over the buildings and thereby doubled the settler population in the neighbourhood, according to Israeli media reports.
On May 21, Israeli bulldozers entered Silwan and razed three Palestinian-owned commercial buildings and a home before sunrise, under the pretext that they were constructed without permits from the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem. Less than a week later, another Palestinian apartment complex was demolished in Silwan.
According to a statement subsequently released by the Wadi Hilweh Information Center-Silwan, some 80 families totalling 300 individuals are currently at risk of eviction in the neighbourhood.
“Silwan is a microcosm of growing trends visible throughout East Jerusalem,” said Awad of the Jerusalemites Campaign, alluding to the ostensible increase in home demolitions and cases of settlers forcibly taking over property.
Back in the Jerusalem court, Raafat Sub Laban says his family is not optimistic about the future. “Of course, we do not expect justice from any Israeli court,” he remarked, “but we are hoping for the best