Israel evicts Palestinians after East Jerusalem legal battle

Media caption,
Generations of the family were evicted after a long legal battle

Israeli police have evicted a Palestinian family from an East Jerusalem home at the centre of an historical property dispute.

The Shamasnehs vacated the house, where they said they had lived for 53 years, after Israeli courts ruled in favour of an heir of its original Jewish owners.

Under Israeli law, Jews can reclaim property lost when Jordan occupied East Jerusalem in the war of 1948-9.

Israel has occupied the area since driving Jordan out in a war in 1967.

On Tuesday morning, police were deployed to the Sheikh Jarrah district as officials evicted the Shamasnehs.

The family of six, one of whom is in his 80s, left the house and sat outside with activists, local media said.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
New occupants moved into the property straight away

"What greater injustice is there than this?" Fahamiya Shamasneh, 75, told AFP news agency. "Maybe we will sleep in the street."

A member of the family tried to break back in through the roof but was stopped and threatened with arrest, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.

A family of new, Jewish occupants, moved into the property as soon as it was vacated.

Settlement drive

The case was brought by the Israel Land Fund, a right-wing non-governmental organisation that advocates for ideological reasons the purchase by Jews of property in Israel and the occupied territories.

The issue of control in East Jerusalem is one of the most contentious areas of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

About 200,000 Jewish settlers and 370,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. Some 2,500 of the more hardline settlers live in buildings bought inside Palestinian neighbourhoods, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The land in Sheikh Jarrah was originally owned by a family among the thousands of Jews who fled or were expelled from eastern Jerusalem by Jordanian forces in the 1948-9 war.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Israeli police sealed off the area before the family were evicted

The property was later rented from Jordan by the Shamasnehs.

The Israel Land Fund identified a descendant of the land's original owners and helped her reclaim the property through the Israeli courts. It was subsequently sold to another Jewish family.

In 2013, Israel's Supreme Court threw out an appeal by the Shamasnehs after a long legal battle.

"The eviction of the Shamasneh family, who resided in the house since 1964, is not only brutal but it is also indicating a dangerous trend that could threaten a future compromise in Jerusalem," Peace Now said.

The family's case was backed by pro-Palestinian rights groups and international figures, including former US President Jimmy Carter.

Palestinians say the Israeli law allowing Jewish property reclamation is discriminatory since no such law exists for Palestinians, some 800,000 of whom fled or were expelled from what became Israel in the 1948-9 war.