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Rafat Sub Laban

My family is facing forced displacement

The view from the window. But settlers are closing in. [Photo courtesy of the family]

Date of publication: 21 April, 2015

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Blog: The Ghaith-Sub Laban family's house in the Old City of Jerusalem is a target of Israeli settlers who are trying to evict three generations of people from their home.
In the Old City of Jerusalem, a minute's walk away from the Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall is our house. My family has been living in the heart of the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem for over 60 years. But since September 2014, Israeli settlers have been trying to evict us following an eviction order they obtained from the Israeli Court.

My family leased their house in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1953 from the Jordanian government back Jordan ruled the West Bank. Nora, my mother, was born in the house in 1956 and has lived there ever since.

     We could be evicted at any time. The settlers have vowed they will have us out no matter what it takes.
Today she still lives in this house with me, my father, Mustafa, and my brother and two sisters. My brothers wife lives there too along with Nora's two grandchildren, aged 9 and 2.

Back in 1953, the Jordanian government labelled the house as "enemy property", suggesting that the property was inhabited by a Jewish family prior to 1948. However, prior to 1948, the house was owned by a Palestinian family but was leased to – and not owned by – a Jewish family.

In 1950, Israel instituted a 'Law of Absentee Property' allowing the nascent state to confiscate the properties of Palestinians who had fled the 1948 war.

After the occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, that law was also applied in occupied Jerusalem to all properties with owners who had fled in 1948. This included the Ghaith-Sub Laban house (ours). Since the early 1970s, they have been managed by the Israeli General Custodian of public and absentee property.

The properties left by Palestinians who fled or were forced to flee in 1948 were termed 'absentee property'. While Palestinians are denied the ability to reclaim their properties, Israeli Jews are allowed to 'reclaim' any property they allegedly owned prior to 1948.

Nora Sub-Laban [Photo cpourtesy of the family]
Israeli Courts have issued dozens of eviction orders for Palestinian families due to such claims.

The Ghaith-Sub Laban family was no different/ They have been harassed and pressured since the 1970s by the Israeli authorities to give up their property. First, they were denied a permit to do necessary house maintenance that had been demanded by the Israeli authorities in the first place. The family was forced to temporarily relocate to another house as the house was in a hazardous condition.

Then, Israeli settlers took over all the other apartments in the building and evicted the remaining Palestinian neighbours. The family was even almost blocked from physically accessing the house, when the settlers who had taken over the house next door expanded their kitchen blocking the main entrance.

Following 25 years of legal battles, the family was eventually given a permit to do the necessary maintenance, including building a new entrance.

The family lived in relative peace until 2010, when the Israeli General Custodian granted ownership of the property to settlers affiliated with a right wing settler organization called Ateret Cohanim.

Ateret Cohanim has a declared aim of creating an Israeli Jewish majority in East Jerusalem and particularly in the Old City's Muslim Quarter. Immediately after gaining ownership, the settlers petitioned the Israeli Court asking for the eviction of the family.

The settlers based their claim on the allegation that my family deserted the property long ago and has never lived in it. And despite the visually verifiable fact that the family holds a protected tenancy status and has lived in the house since 1953, the Israeli Court ruled in favour of the settlers and ordered the family evicted.

Since the court issued the eviction order in September 2014, Israeli settlers themselves have tried to evict the family three times. The first was in December 2014 when the settlers tried to forcefully occupy a storage room beneath the family's apartment.

The second attempt was in February 2015, when the settlers arrived at the family's doorstep asking them to leave the property. Nora's 9-year-old grandson was home alone that day. He had missed school due to illness, but was no slouch that day. His yells and screams alerted neighbours who alerted activists and journalists.

Nora's granndson, 9, had to fend off settlers alone
The settlers were forced to back off.

The third attempt took place on the 16 March. This time the settlers came escorted by 20 Israeli soldiers and policemen. Again the family managed to gather dozens of journalists and activists. However, the settlers were insistent this time.
The police almost broke through the main entrance to evict the family by force when the family's lawyer called saying he had obtained a one-day temporary injunction with which the eviction was stopped.

That day the family had been prepared for the worst. Nora had packed some of her family's memories and possessions in a bag; her wedding photo, university graduation photos of her daughter, pictures of her grandsons and many other old photos with years of memories.

Nora's grandson packed some of his favourite toys and collectibles. The family was horrified by the idea of losing their home and becoming homeless.

My mother started crying hysterically when the police brought a ram to break through our door. The idea of losing her childhood home, where she was born and grew up, was just too much.

No one should face such an unjust situation. This is a forced displacement based on discriminatory laws and practices that violate international law and any and all human rights and humanitarian laws and principles out there.

The family is still facing the threat of eviction. They are currently waiting for an appeal in May, but they are expecting the settlers to attempt to evict them again.

We could be evicted at any time. The settlers have vowed they will have us out no matter what it takes.

My family, the Ghaith-Sub Laban family, has launched an online campaign on social media including a Facebook page "Stop Noras Eviction" as well as on twitter under the hashtag #StopNorasEviction. We have also launched an online petition on Avaaz which has gathered over 11,000 signatures from around the world.

Moreover, the family has appealed to several United Nations Special Rapporteurs asking them to take action and has succeeded in getting the attention of several diplomatic missions in Jerusalem. Several representatives from the European Union's Office in Jerusalem, the British Consulate, The French Consulate, the Spanish Consulate and the Italian Consulate have visited the family and promised to take action.

A group of NGOs both in Palestine and abroad have recently issued a joint statement condemning the attempts to evict the family and Israel's discriminatory policies of forced displacement which violate Israel's obligations under international law.

Personal belongings of sentimental value are packed... just in case [Photos courtesy of the family]

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