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Background on Family Evictions in Batan Al-Hawa

Many Jewish and Arab residents of Jerusalem live today in homes which were owned before 1948 by people who fled (or were expelled) from one side of the border to the other. Jordan housed Arab refugees in homes previously owned by Jews. Israel housed Jewish refugees in homes previously owned by Arabs. 

Despite the fact that Jewish and Arab Jerusalem residents today  share the same circumstances, they face very different legal realities. Arab families are being evicted from their homes so that Jews can recover property lost in 1948. But Jews are protected from evictions because the law does not allow Arabs to recover lost property.

Two laws in particular create this double standard: The Absentee Property Law of 1950 (which annulls Arab ownership of pre-1948 properties) and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970 (which returns pre-1948 properties to Jews). 

The result is that Arabs can become refugees twice: First when they lost their property in 1948 and again today when evicted from their homes. Jews, in stark contrast, can receive double compensation: First, when they moved into homes previously owned by Arabs (as compensation for property they lost in 1948); second, if they reclaim their original properties by evicting Arab families.

Batan al-Hawa is a Palestinian neighborhood in the heart of Silwan with a population of almost 10,000. From the late 19th century until 1938 a Jewish Yemenite village called  K’far HaShiloach existed in this area. The Jewish residents fled the area as a result of Arab violence in the 1920s and 30s.  

Since 2001, the Ateret Cohanim organization has been working to settle Jews in the center of Batan al-Hawa. The primary tool they use is the forced eviction and removal of Arab families who have lived in the neighborhood for decades.

The legal claims are based on the argument that the title to the area was held by the Benvenisti Trust – a Jewish trust active in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which provided homes for the Jewish Yemenite community. The land in question covers an area of 5.2 dunams (1.3 acres) and is currently home to some 90 Palestinian families in Batan al-Hawa. 

Ateret Cohanim are not the heirs of the Benvenisti Trust. However, the state intervened in 2001 to enable the appointment of representatives of Ateret Cohanim as trustees, thereby granting them control of the trust. They then proceeded to advance eviction claims against the families. 

An additional way the state facilitated the dispossession of local residents was by selling land to the Benvenisti Trust (controlled by Ateret Cohanim) without public tender and without the Arab residents currently living on the plots being afforded an opportunity to purchase them. 

Since October 2014, there has been a dramatic escalation in eviction proceedings against local residents. The total number of families at risk of losing their homes exceeds one hundred (several hundred individuals).    

The evictions are ostensibly justified as the return of properties to their rightful owners. However, since in practice only Arabs can be evicted, and only Jews can receive double compensation, the two populations are treated differently under the law; clearly the policy is predicated on discrimination and not the right to property.   

Learn more about the situation in Batan Al-Hawa here: Broken Trust.