Jerusalem families in legal battle to stay in Old City homes

January 14, 2016 /

For the past few weeks, four Palestinian families living in Jerusalem’s Old City have faced the threat of immediate eviction from their homes. The Hashima, Kastero, Seidawi, and Maswada families, who live in the Old City’s Aqbat al-Khalidiya quarter, told Ma’an that they were handed eviction notices in December when an Israeli court ruled that their homes originally belonged to a Jewish organization. Hayil Sandouka, a Palestinian who has long worked on the restoration of Palestinian buildings in the Old City, told Ma’an that the building previously belonged to the Diskin Orphan Fund of Israel, founded in 1881. Sandouka said the organization left the building in the 1930s, after which Palestinian families moved in “upon legal leases which, according to Israeli law, entitles them the status of protected leaseholders.” However, the Diskin Orphan Fund later moved back into two units in the building, one in 1989 and a secibd in 1992, Sandouka told Ma’an, adding that the organization was now aiming to gain back the entire building, which would require the Palestinian families to leave the four units they reside in. Hammuda Kastero, a Palestinian resident of the building, told Ma’an he has lived in his apartment for 47 years but received two eviction notices last month on the pretext that he had failed to pay rent, allegations Kastero said were false. Kastero told Ma’an that Israelis attempting to evict him said he neglected to show up for court hearings regarding his apartment, but he insisted that he had received no notifications regarding his home prior to the eviction orders. He added that the eviction orders were the most recent move taken by Israel against the families, which have have been targeted by Jerusalem’s municipality for decades. “We can’t change doors, windows or tiles. We can’t paint the house and we need permission if we need to hammer a nail,” Kastero told Ma’an.Kastero told Ma’an that the four families insisted on remaining in their homes despite poor living conditions in an effort to protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which many Palestinians believe is threatened by Israel. The Aqbat al-Khalidiya quarter — opposite the Cotton Merchant’s’ Gate of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound — is just one of many areas of occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City that right-wing Israeli groups aim to take over. Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, successive Israeli governments and right-wing groups have implemented a policy of “Judaization” of the Palestinian half of the city. While government funding is channeled into Jewish areas of the Old City, many Palestinian residences remain without running water or connection to sewage infrastructure, according to the UN. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says such policy is “aimed at assuming control of the Old City by ‘de-Arabizing’ it at the expense of both its population and heritage.” A number of Israeli settlement organizations, including Ateret Cohanim, have taken over several Palestinian properties under the Israeli Absentee Property law, which effectively allows Israelis to move into property whose Palestinian owners live in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. A potential connection between the Diskin Orphan Fund — which Sandouka said was taking over the building — and such right-wing groups is not known, and the organization did not immediately respond for comment regarding their alleged takeover of the building in the Aqbat al-Khalidiya quarter. Nawal Hashima, who also lives in the building, told Ma’an that she received an eviction order two years ago after she installed a new door. Hashima told Ma’an that her family used to pay rent to a Palestinian owner of the building but started delivering rent to the post office after “Israeli settlers took over the building” years prior. Since the reported takeover, Hashima said her family has come under attack from Israelis living in the area. “We are afraid when our kids exit the main door. In several cases we have been attacked and pepper-sprayed, not to mention the verbal attacks,” Hashima told Ma’an, adding that an Israeli settler once sprayed pesticides in her daughter’s face. Meanwhile, the Seidawi family told Ma’an that they had lived in their apartment since 1966. The family reportedly proved ownership of their home after an ongoing court battle between 2009 and 2012. Despite winning the court case, a member of the Seidawi family told Ma’an they believed that the Israeli organization attempting to take over the building is planning to expand a synagogue that shares a neighboring wall with her home.Um Rami Maswada, an elderly Palestinian woman who lives with her son’s family in the building, told Ma’an she was “seriously worried” about being forced out. Maswada has lived in the apartment for over 45 years and after receiving the eviction notice for the first time, said it would be “impossible” to leave the home.“All our memories and our history are in this humble house,” she said.

Source Ma’an News Agency