Ma’an News Agency | – –
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces Thursday evicted a Palestinian family from their home in the neighborhood of Saadiya in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem in order to make room for Jewish-only housing managed by right-wing settler group Ateret Cohanim.
The family of Mazen Qirrish was evacuated from their home in the Saadiyya neighborhood of East Jerusalem’s Old City. (MaanImages, File)
Mazen Qirrish, the owner of the house, told Palestinian Authority (PA)-run Wafa News Agency that Israeli police broke into the house and gave him an eviction order issued by an Israeli court, claiming that Qirrish was no longer a “protected tenant.”
Muhannad Jubara, the lawyer for the family, told Ma’an in May that the Qirrish family fell under “protected status,” which refers to certain Palestinians in East Jerusalem who held rental agreements with the Jordanian government before 1967, when Israel occupied the Palestinian territory.
Leaseholders are considered protected tenants for three generations. However, when the last family member of the third generation dies, the family loses the status.
The Israeli-issued court order evicted Qirrish and eight family members from a home they had lived in for 58 years, according to Wafa.
A video of the family sitting on a street with backpacks stuffed with their belongings was posted online by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), showing Qirrish visibly distraught and condemning the eviction.
“My home is my soul. They (Israel) took it away from me. I couldn’t defend it alone,” Qirrish said in the video, adding that “every piece of earth in our home is very dear to us.”
The family has battled eviction orders for several decades. Most recently, the family had challenged the eviction orders by appealing to Israeli courts, but their appeal was rejected in May.
Jubara told Ma’an at the time that Palestinian owners rented the house to the Qirrish family since the 1930s. However in 1986, the Palestinian owners surreptitiously sold the property to Ateret Cohanim.
The Palestinian owners of the home had attempted to evict the Qirrish family in 1988 following the transfer of the property to Ateret Cohanim, but lost the case due to the family’s protected status. However, ten years later, Ateret Cohanim filed a case against the family.
In 2009, the last living member of the Qirrish family’s third generation died, stripping them of their protected status, according to Jubara.
Qirrish told Ma’an that in July 2010 Israeli settlers seized parts of the house. Following the settler takeover, an Israeli court ruled that the family had to evacuate the property completely.
The eviction order was reportedly approved by both the Jerusalem district court and Israel’s Supreme Court.
Ateret Cohanim is an Israeli pro-settlement nonprofit organization — receiving tax-deductible donations from the United States through their financial intermediary American Friends of Ateret Cohanim — which focuses on “Judaizing” East Jerusalem through a Jewish reclamation project working to expand illegal settlements and facilitate Jewish takeover of Palestinian properties across the Green Line into Palestinian territory.
Ateret Cohanim, along with other pro-settler organizations, commonly uses Israel’s 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters law to evict Palestinians from their homes. According to the law, Jewish Israelis are allowed to claim ownership of property if they can prove it was under Jewish ownership before 1948.
However, the law only applies to Jewish Israelis, and not to Palestinians who were dispossessed of their lands and properties prior to and after the establishment of Israel in 1948, despite their right being upheld by UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
Ateret Cohanim has forced out several Palestinian families from properties which were owned by Jewish families before 1948, with some 30 families currently threatened with eviction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Batan al-Hawa, as hundreds of Palestinians have been targeted through discriminatory legal channels.
The organization has also worked to purchase property from Palestinians to increase Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, while deterring Jewish families from selling property to Palestinians.
There are an upwards of 300,000 Israeli settlers residing in East Jerusalem, as the settler population in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem continues to increase at a faster rate than the population in Israel.
The presence of Israeli settlers in occupied Palestinian territory is considered illegal under international law according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.