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Arab family evicted from Old City home in Jerusalem

8 people, including 2 children, leave apartment following Supreme Court ruling in favor of building’s Jewish owner

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Israeli authorities evicted an Arab family from its home in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday, following a recent decision by the Supreme Court that ruled the decades-long tenants had to make way for the building’s Jewish owners.

The Palestinian family forced to leave their home included two households with a total of eight people, two of whom were children, a spokesperson for the Palestinian branch of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Thursday.

The home is part of a larger residential complex comprising nine apartments, eight of which were occupied by Jewish families in July 2010.

After years of legal battle, in May the Supreme Court struck down an appeal by the Kirresh family to halt eviction from the residence. The Palestinian family, which has rented the property since the 1930s, continues to claim a right to remain as a protected tenant, the UN office said.

The complex was bought by a “private Jewish family” 23 years ago, according to Daniel Luria of the group Ateret Kohanim, which helped “facilitate” the transfer of ownership.

Ateret Kohanim says it helps Jews acquire land in homes from Arab owners in the so-called Holy Basin area of East Jerusalem – comprising mainly the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and A-Tur (Mount of Olives).

Critics see the group’s activities as an attempt to “Judaize” East Jerusalem by removing Arab families and bringing in Jewish families in their place.

Israeli border police guard Jerusalem Day marchers as they walk through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, June 1, 2011 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israeli border police guard Jerusalem Day marchers as they walk through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, June 1, 2011 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

According to Ir Amim, an Israeli organization that focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Jerusalem, there are around 80 Jewish families affiliated with Ateret Cohanim in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City. A 2015 report said all of them live in homes from which Palestinian tenants were previously evicted.

Luria said the patriarch of the family, Mazen, had been offered a substantial sum of money for his troubles by the lawyer of the building’s owner. The Palestinian evictee, Luria claimed, did not accept the sum because he was afraid of retribution from the Palestinian Authority.

The PLO negotiations department published a short clip on Twitter in which Mazen Kirresh is seen saying “my house is my soul.”

According to Palestinian law, the punishment for selling land to Israelis can range from the death penalty to life imprisonment and hard labor. However, while Palestinian courts have handed out a few death sentences for selling land to Israelis, they were never carried out.

Luria said the Kirresh family’s apartment would be renovated and at some point a Jewish family would move in.

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