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Uprooted in 1948, Palestinian family fears another displacement

Arab refugees wait in the open air near Jericho, Palestine, December 14, 1948. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Arab refugees wait in the open air near Jericho, Palestine, December 14, 1948 [PhotoQuest/Getty Images]

The family of Muhammad Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Sabbagh owned a building and a large house in the city of Jaffa, in northern occupied Palestine, now Israel, before moving to East Jerusalem following the Palestinian exodus of 1948, Anadolu News Agency reports.

For years, the family, comprising 32 people now, has feared a new displacement after receiving many decisions from settler groups to evict them from the house that they have resided in since 1956 in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.

"After the 1948 war, our family came from Jaffa to Jerusalem, where we had relatives in the Wadi Al-Joz neighbourhood, and we stayed with them for about eight years, until 1956," Al-Sabbagh said in an interview with Anadolu Agency at his home in Sheikh Jarrah. "In that year, the Jordanian government, the UN and the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) established 28 housing units for the benefit of the refugees, so we settled in them."

He went on to say: "My family used to live in the Al-Ajami neighbourhood in Jaffa before 1948, and it owned two houses in the neighbourhood, in addition to a citrus farm of about 250 dunums (61.8 acres) in Yavna, a Palestinian town vacated in 1948. My grandfather was one of the largest fruit and citrus merchants in Jaffa."

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Al-Sabbagh said, "The so-called Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property sold the two houses and the land. The first house has three floors and six apartments, and the second— transferred to an Israeli association by the Custodian of Absentees Property in 2006 and turned into a synagogue—has one floor."

Under Israeli law, Al-Sabbagh is not entitled to claim the restitution of his family's property in Jaffa and Yavna, just like the case with all Palestinian refugees that were forced to abandon their homes and real estate following the 1948 events.

But a law enacted by the Israeli Knesset in 1970 allowed Jews to claim real estate in East Jerusalem that they say was Jewish property before 1948.

Al-Sabbagh said: "We lived in safety and calm until 1967, when the war broke out and the Israeli occupation came. In 1972, two settlement associations came out and claimed that they were the owners of the land on which our homes are built."

He continued: "These people claim that they have a document since 1875, through which they claim that they purchased the land, but it turned out later that they had rented it from the original owner of the land, but through forgery, they turned it from rent to ownership."

An Arab refugee mother, and her child, from the Ramallah region, near Jerusalem, Israel, December 16, 1948. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

An Arab refugee mother, and her child, from the Ramallah region, near Jerusalem, Israel, December 16, 1948 [PhotoQuest/Getty Images]

A Jerusalem citizen had submitted land ownership papers to the Israeli courts, but they refused to acknowledge them, despite the authenticity of the documents.

Since 1972, some 28 Palestinian families, facing allegations of Israeli groups, have been involved in a bitter struggle in Israeli courts.

"We have been in the courts since 1972 until now. In 1976, four cases were filed against four families, but at that time, lawyer Tosya Cohen was able to prove the falsehood of the allegations of the Israeli groups and that the families were residing in their homes legally and did not occupy the homes, as the settler groups claim," Al-Sabbagh stressed.

Palestinian families had resorted to hiring an Israeli lawyer at the time, because Palestinian lawyers were staging a strike before Israeli courts.

But the Palestinian families' joy did not last long when the Israeli lawyer who defended them "made a deal in 1982, with the settlers' attorney, according to which the (Israeli) residents were considered protected tenants and that we had to pay the rent to the settler groups, and stay in the homes for three generations," according to Al-Sabbagh.

He pointed out that "Attorney Cohen signed (the deal) on behalf of 17 families without their knowledge, and (although the deal) was rejected by the families, the court has, so far, relied on this agreement and the forged document in which the settlement groups claim the ownership of the land."

Later, the Israeli lawyer was replaced by a team of Palestinian lawyers.

The actual eviction of families from their homes began in 2008, when the Al-Kurd family was expelled from their home in a procedure repeated in 2009 against the Al-Ghawi and Hanun families.

Al-Sabbagh said the judiciary continued to hear cases against other families and, in February 2012, the eviction decision was issued to his family but the lawyers managed to suspend the decision till 2018 before the court made another decision on 3 January, 2019 that the lawyers managed to suspend and which is still active until today.

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"In early 2021, the courts issued eviction decisions against seven other families. In August, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed its decision on eviction orders until it made a proposal in October to the families who responded by refusing it."

Al-Sabbagh noted that "based on the proposal, the families were to accept to pay rent to the settlement associations and remain in the homes for three generations, and freeze eviction decisions for a period of 15 years, during which the ownership order is discussed in the settlement court."

He said "the proposal was rejected by the families and residents of the neighbourhood, because it represents recognition of the settlers' ownership of the land, and this is not true."

The case of Sheikh Jarrah, since last May, drew the attention of supporters of the Palestinian cause around the world.

Palestinian families fear that the Israeli authorities will expel them from their homes.

"Since 1972, all families have been living under psychological pressure, so where would we go if we were evicted? We always feel threatened with eviction, even though we came to our homes legally and in agreement with the Jordanian government and UNRWA," Al-Sabbagh said.

"You are in a situation where, today, you feel at home and tomorrow you will be outside. This is our daily feeling," he said. "We fear that we will be displaced a second time, as we were displaced in 1948."

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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