The Jerusalem District Court rejected a petition filed by an Arab family last week claiming ownership over a house located within the City of David neighborhood/archeological site in the eastern part of Jerusalem, perhaps ending a nearly 30-year legal battle over the property.
The court ordered that the Sumarin family, currently residing in the building, must evacuate the premises by Aug. 16. The decision follows years of litigation in which Israeli Municipal and District Courts confirmed that the family has no legal rights to the property and that Himanuta, a subsidiary of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, which engages in real estate transactions on their behalf, are the rightful owners of the property.
Nachi Eyal, one of the directors at Himanuta, applauded the Jerusalem District Court’s decision.
He explained to JNS that for years, the family was unable to prove legal ownership. “At one stage, the Sumarin family brought documents trying to prove ownership, which a forensic expert declared to be forged,” he said.
Eyal added that “following the expert’s decision, the family then withdrew the case, trying to avoid the outcome of a judgment rejecting their ownership claim based on the determination that the documents were in fact counterfeit.”
A group of more than 30 left-wing organizations in Israel and abroad have formed a body called the “Sumarin Coalition” in an attempt to stop law enforcement from removing the family. The coalition is urging its supporters to send letters to the KKL-JNF requesting that they allow the family to stay, saying they would be rendered homeless.
However, Eyal explained that during the court proceedings, it was proven that the Sumarin family actually has significant assets and owns a residential building in Jerusalem with six apartments. “This clearly shows the falsehood of the campaign, which paints the picture that the family is being thrown into the street with nowhere to go. But that’s not the case,” he said.
An emailed statement to JNS from Hagit Ofran, head of “Settlement Watch” for the Peace Now organization—one of the 30 groups supporting the Sumarin family—said that “in the ruling, the court did not address the most important, fundamental point, which is that the house was taken in plunder.”
Peace Now claims that following Israel’s annexation of neighborhoods in the eastern side of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day-War, Israel has taken advantage of the “Absentees’ Property Law,” enacted in 1950, to deal with properties abandoned by Arabs in the War of Independence in 1948 in order “to ban families, such as the Sumarin family, from their homes and transfer the assets to the settlers.”
According to Eyal, many of the organizations siding with the Sumarins, such as Peace Now, Ir Amin (an Israeli-activist nonprofit founded in 2004 that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem), Rabbis for Human Rights and others, “receive a great deal of funding from the European Union and other European countries to undermine Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem. It is strange to think that a European country is using taxpayer money to defend a family in court that is unjustly claiming ownership of property.”
‘Unabashed supporters of movements that aid BDS’
Eyal said that as a result of their failures in the Israeli court system, the Sumarin Coalition decided to seek support for their campaign from abroad, including within the UK House of Commons.
In fact, on June 2, a non-binding House of Commons motion was filed with 64 signatures condemning “the ongoing attempts of the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) to evict the Sumarin family from their home in East Jerusalem.”
Eyal noted that “it is not surprising that a motion was filed in the UK House of Commons, as the groups involved in the Sumarin Coalition are engaged in activities which contribute to the BDS movement against Israel. Likewise, their colleagues on the UK side that sponsored the bill are unabashed supporters of movements that aid the BDS campaign against Israel from the UK.”
He shared that “one of the MP’s, in particular—Labour’s Andy Slaughter—came to Israel with [former British Labour Party head] Jeremy Corbyn and was photographed meeting with Hamas leaders.”
The photo referred to by Eyal was published in The Jewish Chronicle in 2018 and featured a smiling Slaughter, alongside Corbyn and senior Hamas officials Ahmad Attoun, Khaled Abu-Arafah and Muhammad Totah.
Another signatory to the motion is Scottish National Party MP Tommy Sheppard, who is well-known for his pro-Palestinian sentiments.
In 2015, Sheppard was part of a group that penned a letter to The Guardian prior to a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United Kingdom, insisting that Netanyahu should “bear responsibility for war crimes” carried out by Israel during 2014’s “Operation Protective Edge.”
The letter stated that instead of welcoming Netanyahu, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron should “impose immediate sanctions and an arms embargo on Israel” over its Gaza policies.
In 2018, Sheppard praised the decision by the Airbnb rental brokering company for their decision to blacklist Jewish property listings in Judea and Samaria. Airbnb reversed its decision following several months of a strong international backlash.
So what will happen on Aug. 16, the date the court ruled that the Sumarin family must vacate the property?
Eyal believes that the family will try to appeal to Israel’s High Court in order to stall for time. However, he said, “I will work with all of my might so that the property will be turned over to its rightful owners.”