The Ateret Cohanim organization filed a lawsuit this week demanding the eviction of seven Palestinian families from a house in Silwan, as part of its ongoing effort to expand Jewish settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood.
The suit, filed Tuesday, seeks to evict the Rajabi family from the house next door to the one Jewish settlers entered two weeks ago. It says the land on which the building sits is owned by a Jewish religious trust that purchased it 134 years ago.
There are two main centers of Jewish settlement in Silwan. The larger one, run by the Elad organization, is next to the City of David national park, near the Old City walls. The second, run by Ateret Cohanim, is in the heart of Silwan, amid a large Palestinian population. The Jewish families there enter and leave their own houses only under armed escort, in convoys of armored cars.
Ateret Cohanim maintains several buildings in this area, including Beit Yonatan, a multistory building where about 10 families live. Two weeks ago, following a lengthy legal battle, it was allowed to settle the Abu Nab building, which once housed a synagogue for the Yemenite Jewish community that lived there in the early 20th century.
The new suit, which seeks to evict the Rajabi family, was filed on behalf of the Moshe Benvenisti religious trust. The trust, whose trustees are lawyers working with Ateret Cohanim, bought the land in question in 1881, as attested by a deed of purchase signed by an Ottoman sharia court. The Ottoman Empire controlled the area at the time.
By law, Jews who owned property in East Jerusalem before it was conquered by Jordan during the 1948 War of Independence can get it back from the Administrator General’s office, which inherited it from the Jordanian custodian of enemy property. In contrast, Palestinians who owned property in Israel before 1948 cannot reclaim it. This law has enabled Elad and Ateret Cohanim to gain control of many buildings in Silwan and other East Jerusalem neighborhoods.
In 2002, the administrator general released several plots in the heart of Silwan to the trustees of the Moshe Benvenisti trust. Hundreds of Palestinian families currently live on these plots.
The Rajabi building contains seven apartments that are home to some 40 people, including 28 children. The Rajabi family has lived there since 1966, and says it bought the building from the previous owner.
“We have a paper [saying] that we bought it, with Jordanian government stamps,” said Zuheir Rajabi, the family patriarch. “Let them return our house in Malha, and then we’ll talk,” he added, referring to a neighborhood in west Jerusalem. “I’ll leave here only when I’m dead.”