On Tuesday morning, Israeli police evicted the Shamasna family from their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem. The family, who were made refugees from West Jerusalem in 1948, had rented the house since 1964. The eviction, which made way for Israeli settlers, is part of Israel’s ongoing process of expropriation and displacement that extends to multiple neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
In 1948, Israeli forces ethnically cleansed what would become the Israeli state of its indigenous Palestinian population. Following this mass expulsion, some Palestinian families from West Jerusalem, like the Shamasna family, fled to East Jerusalem, which was controlled by Jordan. There, the Jordanian government’s Custodian of Enemy Property rented homes to displaced Palestinian families. These homes belonged to Jews who had left for Israel.
Meanwhile, in 1950, Israel passed a law called the Absentee Property Law, which defined Palestinians expelled from Israel as “absentees.” Using this law, the Israeli government seized the property of these “absentees,” including their homes and land, and gave them to Jewish Israelis. In the immediate aftermath of 1948, Israel used this legal framework to expropriate more than four million acres of Palestinian land.
After Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967, the Israeli government took control of property previously administered by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. The Shamasna family and other tenants now began paying rent to the Israeli Custodian General for their East Jerusalem homes.
In 1970, Israel passed a law that allowed Israelis to seize control of properties in Jerusalem that they or their relatives had owned before 1948. Jewish owners who lost property in 1948 were also given compensation and provided alternative housing. Israel did not pass any laws allowing Palestinian Jerusalemites to claim property they had lost in 1948, or providing them with compensation.
On the basis of the 1970 Law, the Israeli Land Fund, a right-wing settler group working with the Jewish heir to the property, started legal proceedings to evict the Shamasna family from their home in 2009. The family received an eviction order, which, after a series of appeals, was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2013. Further appeals only succeeded in delaying the eviction to this past Tuesday, September 6th.
This eviction is hardly an isolated incident. In 2009, three other families were evicted from Sheikh Jarrah on the same grounds. Also, in July 2017, the Jerusalem regional planning committee began preparing for four new settlements in the neighborhood, which would require demolishing five Palestinian homes. A further six Palestinian families in the neighborhood are under eviction orders.
In another East Jerusalem neighborhood, Silwan, the eviction of Palestinian residents is also commonplace. Israeli police removed two families from their homes in October 2015, on the basis of the 1970 law. Those evictions were part of a plan by Ateret Cohanim, another right-wing settler group, to evict fifty-one Palestinian families (300 people in total) from Silwan.
The Israeli government pays the cost of evicting Palestinian families and guarding new settlements in East Jerusalem, at $258,000 per home per year.
Similar policies can be seen across Palestine. Israel has demolished a Palestinian Bedouin village to make way for an Israeli town and is demolishing Palestinian homes across the West Bank by the hundreds each year.
As these practices and policies make clear, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, which began before 1948, was not an isolated event, but rather an ongoing process of which the Shamasna family is only the latest victim.