Palestinian family evicted from Jerusalem home after decades-long legal battle

Supreme Court has ruled the Old City property had Jewish ownership until seized by Jordanians in 1948 war; Ghaith-Sub Laban family say they’ve lived in it since the 1950s

Noura Ghaith-Sub Laban, center, is comforted by family as she reacts to their eviction from their home in Jerusalem's Old City, July 11, 2023. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)
Noura Ghaith-Sub Laban, center, is comforted by family as she reacts to their eviction from their home in Jerusalem's Old City, July 11, 2023. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

AP — Israeli authorities on Tuesday evicted a Palestinian family from their contested apartment in Jerusalem’s Old City, the family said, capping a decades-long legal battle that has come to symbolize conflicting claims to the holy city.

Left-wing activists say the Ghaith-Sub Laban family’s eviction is part of a wider trend of nationalist Israelis, backed by the government, encroaching on Palestinian-majority neighborhoods and cementing Israeli control by claiming property in East Jerusalem.

Israel views the case as a simple legal battle over real estate, with the Jewish plaintiffs saying the Palestinian residents are squatters in an apartment historically owned by Jews.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down the Palestinian family’s final appeal, capping a 45-year-long legal battle over their right to live in the apartment and ruling that the home was historically Jewish-owned.

During British rule over Mandatory Palestine, before the War of Independence over Israel’s creation in 1948, the apartment was owned by a trust for Kollel Galicia, a group that collected funds in Eastern Europe for Jewish families in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian family says it moved into the property in the early 1950s and rented it from a “General Custodian” for abandoned properties, first under Jordanian authorities and then under Israel after the Six Day War in 1967. The case dragged on for decades, as the Israeli custodian and then the Kollel Galicia trust contested the family’s “protected” status. Among its claims was that the family did not use the property for extended periods.

Police officers came to Nora Ghaith-Sub Laban’s house in Jerusalem’s Old City early Tuesday morning, forced open the door and removed the family, said her son, Ahmad Sub-Laban. He said his family has been barred from reentering the premises.

“When we got back in front of the house, we faced the new reality that our main entrance had been closed and we don’t have the right to use it anymore,” he said. “They took the key and changed the lock.”

Activists gather outside of Noura Ghaith-Sub Laban’s home after their eviction from their home to make way for Israelis in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 11, 2023. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

Free Jerusalem, an activist group that has tried to support the family, said that police arrested 12 people who demonstrated against the eviction Tuesday morning.

For the last month, Free Jerusalem activists have been in the house to support to family around the clock, anticipating the eviction. Six Israeli left-wing activists were inside the home when police arrived and were removed along with the family, Haaretz reported.

As soon as the property was cleared, new Israeli residents moved in.

Last week, an activist was arrested at the site for wearing a hat showing a slain Palestinian rock thrower and for allegedly insulting police. The activist, Gil Hammerschlag, is refusing to agree to the terms of a restricted release and is still in custody.

Jerusalem’s Old City, home to holy sites of the three monotheistic faiths, was captured by Israel from Jordan along with the rest of East Jerusalem during the Six Day War, and later annexed in a move unrecognized by most of the international community.

Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

Today, more than 220,000 Jews live in East Jerusalem, largely in Jewish neighborhoods that Israel regards as part of its capital. Most of East Jerusalem’s 350,000 Palestinian residents live in overcrowded neighborhoods where there is little room to build.

Authorities have not let the family back into the house to recover their furniture or medicine for Noura and Rafat, Noura’s son, Rafat said.

Ahmad and his siblings were evicted from the house in 2016. For now, Noura and her husband, Mustafa, will stay with their children in the nearby neighborhood of Shuafat until they can find a permanent place to stay, Rafat said.

Noura Ghaith Sub-Laban, who had been resting in a neighbor’s home following the eviction, came out to speak to the press at around noon, amid continuing protests.

“We will remain rooted in our land. They think if I leave this house that I’ll never return to Jerusalem? They’re wrong, Jerusalem is our home and it lives within us,” she said.

Activists gather outside of Noura Ghaith-Sub Laban’s home after their eviction from their home to make way for Israeli owners in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 11, 2023. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

An Israeli law passed after the annexation of East Jerusalem allows Jews to reclaim properties that were Jewish before the formation of the state in 1948.

During the 1948 war, thousands of Jews fled Jerusalem as Jordanian-led Arab forces seized the city. Jordan then controlled the area between 1948 and the 1967 war.

A similar dispute that could lead to evictions of Palestinian families in the nearby neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah stirred tensions that built up to a 2021 war between Israel and the Hamas terror group in Gaza that killed over 250 people.

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