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Palestinians perform prayers at Jerusalem home threatened by settler takeover

Aug. 11, 2017 8:52 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 12, 2017 4:26 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Tens of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem performed prayers outside the Shamasna home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Friday in a show of solidarity with the family, who is facing imminent evacuation from their home of 53 years to make room for Israeli settlers claiming they own the family's home.

Ekrima Sabri, head of the High Islamic Committee, said during the Friday khutbah -- Islamic sermon -- that “the land that the Shamasna family home is built on belongs to the family, and not to Jews.” He said that the Shamasna family had rented the house from its “original owners” since before 1948 -- the year Israel was established.

However, Sabri's claims contradict reports that the family patriarch, Ayoub Shamasna, moved into the house in 1964.

The family has told Ma'an that they were forced to flee the Jerusalem-area village of Qatanna some 69 years ago during the creation of Israel. While the village is now part of the occupied West Bank, it is located close to Israeli territory.

After 1948, the village mostly became a "no-man's land" after Israel declared a buffer zone between Israel and what was then Jordanian territory, forcing the village's residents to flee the area.

Israelis want to turn the area into “a land without a people,” Sabri said, by advancing settlement housing while demolishing Palestinian homes and properties. Sabri added that Jews had only owned six percent of historic Palestine during the British Mandate. However, now they own 80 percent, while the rest has been dismembered by illegal Israeli settlements, he claimed.

The magistrate court in Jerusalem, the district court, and the Israeli Supreme Court have all ruled in favor of claims that the Shamasna house is Jewish property and that the owners could evict the family.

According to Israeli law, Jewish Israelis are permitted to claim ownership over property believed to have been owned by Jews before 1948 during Ottoman or British rule. However, such a law does not exist for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their lands and homes during and after the establishment of the state of Israel.

Israelis have also claimed that Sheikh Jarrah was once the site of a 19th century Jewish community.

“All land in Sheikh Jarrah is Palestinian land,” Palestine Jerusalem Mayor Adnan al-Husseini added during the demonstration. He expressed hope that the family would be able to successfully challenge the Israeli evacuation order.

Before 1967, the Shamasna family had rented the property from the Jordanian government.

Some of the properties that had once been owned by Jews -- thousands of whom fled East Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war -- were repurposed by the Jordanian government, who took control over the territory following the war, to house some of the approximately 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from homes that were consumed by the new Israeli state.

However, when Israel took control over the territory after the Six-Day War in 1967, the Jordanian-controlled properties were transferred to Israel's general custodian.

In 2009, when a wave of Israeli settler ownership claims targeted the neighborhood, the building’s custodian refused to renew the Shamasnas' lease, stating that the heirs of the Jewish homeowner had filed a lawsuit.

Muhammad Shamasna told Ma’an on Monday that the municipality had notified the family that if they did not evacuate the house willingly by Aug. 9, they would be forcibly removed from the premises and charged for the costs of the eviction -- including the work hours of the police officers and municipality employees involved.

However, the family has refused to leave.

If the eviction plans are carried out, it would be the first eviction in the neighborhood since 2009, when the Um Kamel al-Kurd, Ghawi, and Hanoun families were evicted from their homes by Israeli settlers under similar ownership claims.

The 2009 evictions sparked widespread protests in Sheikh Jarrah. At the same time, a group of Israeli settlers took over the front section of the al-Kurd family home claiming that their ancestors had once owned the plot of land; eight years later, the family has continued to live side-by-side with the Jewish extremists.

According to a report released by the UN following the 2009 settler takeovers, hundreds of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah are under threat of eviction by Israeli settlers groups -- mostly led by the Nahalat Shimon International settler organization.

Israeli rights group Ir Amim has noted that Israeli settler plans have focused on taking control of the entire neighborhood and then demolishing it to establish a massive Jewish settlement, called Shimon HaTzadik -- named after the tomb of the biblical figure Simeon the Just, which is believed by Jews to be located in the neighborhood.

Most of the Palestinians facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah are 1948 refugees, displaced from their homes during the establishment of the state of Israel. Among these Palestinians are 28 Palestinian refugee families who live in homes that were built for them by the UN in the 1950s under an agreement with the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy property, which managed properties owned by Jews before 1948.

The agreement stipulated that if the families forewent their refugee assistance, the UN would build homes for them on unused land in the neighborhood. According to Ir Amim, this land was owned by Jews before 1948.

After paying a nominal rent for a three-year period, the families were promised that the ownership titles of the homes would then be transferred to them. However, some of the families never received the ownership titles. Since the 1970s, the 28 families have been embroiled in a never-ending string of legal disputes, as various Israeli settlers have attempted to claim ownership over their properties.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction, mass demolitions of Palestinian homes, and stringent laws making it difficult for Palestinians to maintain their East Jerusalem residency.
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