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Israeli trust’s lawyer asks for speed up of 700 Palestinian evictions that were granted on outdated Ottoman law

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Residents of Silwan at Israel's High Court, June 10, 2018.Emil salman
By Middle East Affairs 

Israel failed to properly investigate a title deed for East Jerusalem lands before awarding it to a Jewish trust, a transfer that would evict Palestinians from their land.

Benvenisti Trust is set to acquire 5.5 dunams (1.4 acres) of land in the Silwan neighborhood forcing 700 Palestinians to leave behind their home. The Trust was established 120 years ago as a way for incoming Jews from Yemen to receive land.

Ateret Cohanim has since taken control of the trust, the nonprofit advocates for Jews to take homes away from Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

On Sunday at the High Court of Justice, the Israeli government admitted that the Justice Ministry’s administrator general had failed to ensure a proper investigation and relied on Ottoman-era law to give away the land.

Government lawyers are seeking from the court to cancel its evictions of 700 Palestinians on technical grounds.

A lawyer representing the Benvenisti Trust and Ateret Cohanim, Avi Segal said that the court should dismiss claims from Palestinians because of they knew about the issuance of the title deed for many years but failed to do anything about it until their eviction notices arrived.

He also said that the High Court is not the place to be hearing testimony, even if it includes expert testimony.

Palestinians hoping to stop the evictions say that the deed refers to buildings on the land from the 1940’s not to the land itself, saying that the law existed when Ottomans ruled the land and so the trust was created under their rule. The Palestinian petitioners are making their case that the buildings were built before the 19th century and demolished before 1948, the year that Israel was created.

Their legal case states that the trust owns buildings that no longer exist, not the land itself so the trust’s ownership should cease and the evictions halted.

The petition was sent to court by residents of Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan, on behalf of 70 families who are set to lose their homes. The title deed was awarded to the trust a year into Ateret Cohanim’s control of the group.

An Israeli flag hangs on the wall of a building that was taken over by settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan in 2016.Olivier Fitoussi

The petitioners are also relying on the legal opinion that the administrator general previously issued in a similar case with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, whose eviction notices were overturned. However, in that case, the trust was Muslim and wished to prevent the eviction of Palestinian families. The same Ottoman rule was used in their legal defense as well.

The trust’s lawyer Segal on Sunday asked the High Court to speed up the eviction and said that the only reason it had been delayed was due to the Palestinian petitioners presenting their case to the court. Daphne Barak-Erez, one of the justices hearing the case said that the answer from the court would arrive shortly.

Segal has been hired in the past to handle the eviction of Palestinians by the administrator general. Sagal’s law firm was chosen by the administrator in general because of its expertise in dealing in such cases surrounding Jerusalem.

He said, “My office represents the administrator general in eviction cases against intruders and trespassers at properties legally transferred to the administrator general.”

Segal refuses the claim, “evictions of Palestinian families from their homes.”

Muhammad Dahleh, the lawyer for the Palestinians in speaking about the 700 Palestinians that have been issued eviction notices “How is it possible to evict them based on such a poor procedure, a procedure that the state today acknowledges making a mistake in?”

One of the justices Erez responded with, “Simple question is whether this court is the appropriate place for this hearing?”

The title deed issued by the administrator general in 2002 knew it was going to be forcing hundreds of families to evacuate but never bothered to seek their input.