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Background on families facing eviction in Sheich Jarrah: The Sabbagh Family


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 annuls 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.

Approximately 150 Jerusalem families in two neighborhoods, Sheikh Jarrah and Batan Al-Hawa, are in danger of losing their homes. These families consist of more than 1000 individuals. 

The Sabbagh Family

  • Legal proceedings for the eviction of 32 members of the Sabbagh family have concluded and the family is in immediate danger of eviction. 

  • The Sabbaghs are a refugee family who lived in Jaffa until 1948. 

  • Two apartment buildings owned by the family still stand today. Ownership of the buildings was expropriated by the State of Israel. 

  • In 1956, Jordan and the United Nations settled 28 refugee families, among them the Sabbaghs, in homes built for them in Sheikh Jarrah (a neighborhood of Jerusalem). 

  • In exchange, the families gave up their U.N. refugee cards which had entitled them to significant benefits. 

  • According to the Jerusalem Center’s report, the agreement between the families and the Jordanian government stipulated that the families would pay a symbolic sum of one Jordanian dinar a year with renewable leases for future generations. The report’s authors state that they were unable to corroborate or deny the families’ claim that the agreement included a commitment by the state to transfer full ownership of the property after a fixed time.   

  • After conquering East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel passed a law enabling Jews to reclaim properties they lost in East Jerusalem in 1948. 

  • In 1972, the Israel Lands Registry accepted a claim made by representatives of two Jewish trusts that the land upon which were built homes for the families had originally been owned by the trusts in the 19th century. A short time later, the trusts initiated legal proceedings to evict the families.  

  • In 2003, the trusts sold the rights to the property to a private company called Nachalat Shimon which then initiated their own legal proceedings to evict the families.  

  • Representatives of the Sabbagh family requested to present documents to the court that raise significant questions regarding the claim of ownership made by the Jewish trusts but the courts refused to consider the evidence due to the Statute of Limitations. 

  • The court’s decision to evict the family reflects discriminatory legislation according to which Jews can reclaim properties lost in the War of Independence (1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law) while Palestinians like the Sabbaghs are prevented from reclaiming  their property from that same period (Absentee Property Law 1950). 

  • In most cases in which Jews lost property in East Jerusalem as a result of the war, they received compensation in the form of Palestinian properties in West Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law stipulates that they can also retrieve the original properties lost in 1948 (by evicting Palestinian families) while simultaneously holding on to the Palestinian property they received as compensation for those same properties.  

  • The process of evictions in East Jerusalem is further facilitated by unethical cooperation between state agencies, who are entrusted with the wellbeing of the public without regard to race or religion, and private organizations acting to “Judaize” Palestinian neighborhoods by replacing Arab residents with Jews. 

  • The Sabbagh family, like most residents of East Jerusalem, do not have the right to vote for the Knesset and thus are not represented in the government bodies which determine their fate.  

  • If they are evicted, the Sabbagh family will become refugees for the second time. 

Learn more about the situation in Sheikh Jarrah here: Jerusalem Center for Policy Research Report on Sheikh Jarrah

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