Israel Evicts Palestinian Family After Decades-Long Legal Battle: A Symbol of Jerusalem’s Conflicting Claims

by Lucas Garcia
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Israeli authorities have forcefully evicted a Palestinian family from a disputed apartment in Jerusalem’s Old City, marking the culmination of a protracted legal dispute that has become emblematic of the conflicting claims to the sacred city. This eviction, seen by activists as part of a broader trend of Israeli settlers encroaching on Palestinian neighborhoods with the government’s support, highlights Israel’s efforts to solidify control over contested East Jerusalem by seizing properties.

Israel portrays the eviction as a straightforward real estate dispute, with settlers asserting that the family was occupying an apartment formerly owned by Jews. Earlier this year, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the family’s final appeal, bringing an end to their 45-year legal battle and paving the way for the eviction.

On Tuesday morning, police officers arrived at Nora Ghaith-Sub Laban’s residence in Jerusalem’s Old City, forcibly entered the premises, and removed the family. Ahmad Sub-Laban, Nora’s son, expressed their shock at finding their main entrance sealed shut and their access denied. He stated that the authorities had taken the key and changed the lock, preventing their return.

Around the apartment building, several dozen protesters gathered, chanting “Occupation no more,” while Jewish settlers gathered nearby, rejoicing and observing the distressed family. Some settlers even poured water on the family members from windows above.

Nora Ghaith-Sub Laban, the matriarch of the family, criticized Israel’s actions as an attempt to “ethnically cleanse” Palestinians from the area and vowed to continue their fight against the eviction. Despite the deep emotional impact of losing their home and cherished memories, Nora expressed her resilience and determination, stating, “I’m not weak.”

Arieh King, a settler leader and deputy mayor of Jerusalem, viewed the eviction as a cause for celebration, asserting that the family should be ashamed for utilizing a property that does not belong to them.

The Ghaith-Sub Laban family claims to have moved into the property in the early 1950s, renting it from a “general custodian” for abandoned properties, first under Jordanian authorities and later under Israeli control after the 1967 Middle East war. The case endured for decades as the Israeli custodian and the Kollel Galicia trust, the original property owner, disputed the family’s protected status. The trust alleged that the family had not consistently used the property, while the family explained that they had vacated at times due to illness or to carry out necessary repairs.

Jerusalem’s Old City, which houses holy sites significant to three major monotheistic faiths, was captured by Israel, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, during the 1967 war and subsequently annexed in a move unrecognized by most of the international community. Israel considers the entire city as its capital, while Palestinians aspire to establish East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

Presently, over 220,000 Jews reside in East Jerusalem, primarily in established settlements that Israel considers as part of its capital. In contrast, most of the 350,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem live in densely populated neighborhoods with limited space for expansion.

During the eviction, authorities denied the Ghaith-Sub Laban family access to retrieve their furniture or medicine for Nora and her son Rafat. They were only able to salvage one item as they were being forced out—their cherished plant, which has been with the family for 17 years. Ahmad Sub Laban expressed their decision to keep the plant as a reminder of their former home, where their children grew up, and their hope to one day return.

For now, Nora and her husband Mustafa plan to seek temporary accommodation with their children until they find a permanent residence. In other parts of East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City, settler organizations and Jewish trusts are pursuing similar legal battles against Palestinian families in an effort to pave the way for more settlers.

An Israeli law enacted after the annexation of East Jerusalem grants Jews the right to reclaim properties that were owned by Jews before the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948. However, no equivalent right exists for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were displaced or forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.

The Ghaith-Sub Laban apartment, under British rule in historic Palestine prior to Israel’s establishment, belonged to a trust for Kollel Galicia—a group that raised funds in Eastern Europe to support Jewish families in Jerusalem. The trust declined to comment when approached by the media.

A similar dispute in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has heightened tensions and could lead to the eviction of more Palestinian families. This situation played a significant role in the escalation of tensions, ultimately culminating in the 2021 conflict between Israel and the Hamas militant group in Gaza, resulting in the loss of over 250 lives.

According to the United Nations humanitarian office, nearly 1,000 Palestinians, including 424 children, currently face the threat of eviction in East Jerusalem.

Expressing her determination, Nora Ghaith-Sub Laban declared, “I will not stay quiet.” She vowed to exploit any legal loopholes and take legal action against the authorities, emphasizing her rights, her home, her land, and her country.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about eviction

What is the background of the eviction of the Palestinian family in Jerusalem?

Israeli authorities evicted a Palestinian family from a disputed apartment in Jerusalem’s Old City after a 45-year legal battle. The eviction is part of a larger trend of Israeli settlers encroaching on Palestinian neighborhoods with government support.

What is the reason given by Israeli authorities for the eviction?

Israeli settlers claim that the Palestinian family was squatting in an apartment that was formerly owned by Jews. The eviction is framed by Israel as a simple battle over real estate.

How long did the legal battle for the Palestinian family last?

The legal battle endured for 45 years before Israel’s Supreme Court ultimately rejected the family’s final appeal, leading to the eviction.

What are the implications of this eviction?

The eviction symbolizes the conflicting claims to Jerusalem and highlights Israel’s efforts to cement control over contested East Jerusalem by seizing properties. It has sparked tensions and protests, reflecting the broader issue of Israeli settlements and Palestinian displacement.

What is the current situation of the Palestinian family?

The family was forcefully removed from their home, and access to the premises has been denied. They are temporarily staying with relatives while searching for a permanent place to live.

Are there similar cases of evictions in East Jerusalem?

Yes, settler organizations and Jewish trusts are pursuing other court battles against Palestinian families in and around Jerusalem’s Old City, aiming to clear the way for more settlers. The situation in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has also raised tensions and the threat of further evictions.

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