Israel, pushed by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), is moving ahead with efforts to evict another Palestinian family from its home in Silwan. The case this time revolves around the Sumarin family, which the JNF, through its Israeli partner company, Himnuta, as been seeking to evict from the Wadi Helwa area of Silwan since 1991. The JNF’s claim is that the family has no rights to their home, since a family elder lives in Jordan; on the basis of his residency in Jordan, the JNF succeeded in having the property designated as “absentee property,” despite the fact that family members have continuously inhabited the home.
As noted by Haaretz:
“Though Himnuta is officially the only plaintiff in the case, in practice, the suit is being waged by Elad, a right-wing organization that hopes to obtain the house from KKL-JNF if the latter is declared the rightful owner. Elad’s attorneys have been active in managing the case and are present at all the hearings. And Himnuta’s attorney in the case, Zeev Scharf, regularly works with Elad.”
Back in 2011, activists working to stop Elad from taking the Sumarin’s house launched an international campaign highlighting the JNF’s role in the affair. In response, the JNF sought to portray itself as having nothing to do with the eviction efforts. That charade was definitively debunked by Israeli experts, including Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, who posted official documents that underscore the direct role the JNF is playing in seeking to take over the property.
As Ofran wrote back in 2011 (the last time that eviction appeared imminent), in an important commentary on JNF/Himnuta’s Silwan efforts:
“In Silwan there is a fight over nationality, history and also religion. For the Palestinians, it is a Palestinian neighborhood, next to Al-Aqsa Mosque where thousands of Palestinians have been living for ages. The settlers are trying to make it into “The City of David,” using archaeology and tourism to change the public domain in Silwan. The visitors center of the “City of David” tourism site was built by the settlers next to the house of the Sumarin family. If taken by the settlers, the Sumarin house would give them a large contiguous area at the very entrance to Silwan and dramatically change the character of the neighborhood.”
The JNF’s role in facilitating the settler takeovers in Silwan, historically and to this day, cannot be overestimated. Without the JNF’s active complicity, the scope of settlement in Silwan would be smaller, and by several orders of magnitude. Indeed, in 1998, senior JNF/Himnuta official Avraham Halleli testified before the Jerusalem District Court [Civil Claim (Jerusalem District Court) 1870/96 Heirs of the Late Barbanela Nuniz Fatiha vs. Himnuta,Ltd., Tak-Mech 99(2) 4112,the Court’s transcript, 5 May 1998, pp. 47-48], stating:
“To the best of my knowledge, all of the JNF areas [in Silwan] were leased by the ILA to the Elad Association…it is the lands policies of JNF…that [its lands] be leased to Jews for the purposes of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel.”
Halleli further confirmed that the JNF had instituted eviction proceedings against Palestinian occupants by means of the relevant settlers’ attorney, “...since there was no conflict of interest….”
The process of handing the property over to the settlers was entirely covert and non-transparent. No tenders were issued that might have allowed other parties to bid for ownership, and no announcements were made of the transfers. In an illuminating aside, the JNF/Himnuta openly argued that, as far as Palestinians in Jerusalem are concerned, it would not have made a difference if there had been an open tender process. On January 21, 1991, the Himnuta corporate secretary notified the Knesset: “When there is bidding [tenders], anyone can participate, except Arabs…” (quoted from Himnuta’s letter to Knesset Research Department, January 21, 1991 – unpublished).
In recent years, JNF has encountered a good deal of criticism for its support of the settlers in Silwan, and in order to repair the damage done have consistently asserted that this support took place long ago. It is now apparent that the JNF-settler collusion in Silwan is very much alive.