Israeli court rules to cut ties of Palestinian family in Jerusalem
Ramallah - After a 6-year battle, the Israel High Court ruled that Nora Gheith and Mustafa Sub Laban would be allowed to stay in their Jerusalem’s Old City home for another ten years but without their three children and two grandsons.
Family members petitioned the High Court, appealing a previous court decision to evict them from the home they had been living in for more than 50 years. Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish settler organisation, claimed the home was the property of Jews abandoned by its Palestinian tenants. The court supported that view in a ruling that said the Palestinian family was not living at the property.
Gheith said she was not sure whether the ruling was a victory, detention or an attempt to split up her family.
“I was able to keep my house for another ten years but I am not allowed to live with my children. No law approves to separate a mother from her children,” she said.
She lived in the house with her husband, Sub Laban, their three children, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. However, the ruling barred her children and grandchildren from living in the house.
“This is so difficult, unjust and unfair,” Gheith said. “I need my children with me. My children will not live with me but no one can deny them the right to visit me.”
Gheith’s parents rented the house in 1953 from the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property, which is in charge of abandoned Jewish property after 1948. This meant the family’s tenancy would be protected for three generations but after the last family member of the third generation dies, the family loses “protected tenants” status and the property is transferred to the settler organisation.
Gheith was born in the house three years after the property was first rented and lived there with her family as protected tenants after 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank, taking possession of all property that was under the control of the Jordanian government.
Israeli settlers claimed the house belonged to Jews before Israel’s establishment in 1948 and it was rented out to Gheith’s family during the Jordanian rule of East Jerusalem from 1948-67.
B’Tselem, the Israeli Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said 125 Israeli settlements recognised by the Ministry of the Interior as “communities” were established in the West Bank from 1967 to late 2013. It estimates the number of Israeli settlers living in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank to be more than 547,000, 196,890 of whom are in East Jerusalem.
The last Palestinian family to live near Gheith was evicted in 1988.
B’Tselem said the Israeli government’s goal in Jerusalem has been to “create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city”.
Gheith said if she were not a Palestinian, no one would have targeted her and her family to be evicted. “They will bring any Jewish family to live in the house that belonged to my family for nearly six decades,” she said.
Settlers claimed that the protected tenancy status that applies to rented property before 1967 no longer applies to Gheith and her family because the house was abandoned.
Gheith said such claims were baseless because she always lived in the house in Aqbat al-Khaldieh neighbourhood in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. “They needed any excuse to evict my family,” Gheith said.
Court personnel will conduct unannounced inspections to make sure that no one is living with Gheith and her husband. She described the situation as living in a prison.
Rafat Sub Laban, Gheith’s son who is a legal researcher, said he was looking into whether further legal action can be taken. It is uncommon for Palestinian children to leave their family home before marriage.
“This is completely absurd and goes against our social norms and violates our right to family,” he said. In fact, this is an indirect means to force my family out of the house, as my mother and father cannot live without us, especially that they are elderly and cannot live alone.”
Moving out of the house and Jerusalem could jeopardise the family members’ residency status.
“We will not be in compliance of the centre of life policy, which Israel applies to Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Under this policy, if we can’t prove residence in Jerusalem, our residency status would be endangered and could be revoked,” Sub Laban said.
Palestinians in Jerusalem do not hold Israeli or Palestinian citizenship but carry Israeli-issued residency permits that can be revoked.