For the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world, home has become an especially important source of shelter and safety. While some governments have responded to pressure from activists and paused evictions, Palestinians in East Jerusalem still face uncertainty.
That’s the case with the Sumarin family, who live just outside Jerusalem’s Old City in the Palestinian village of Silwan. The Jewish National Fund and the Elad organization have long been promoting Jewish settlement in the area — often at the expense of the Palestinian residents.
In April, after a decades-long legal battle, an Israeli court will finally decide whether the Sumarin family will be forcibly evicted from their home. On this episode of the +972 podcast, we teamed up with Unsettled Podcast to tell the story of the Sumarin family and their struggle to remain in the house they’ve lived in for generations.
“There’s no place for me to go,” says Amal Sumarin, the family’s matriarch. “They [the JNF] have money to fight for this house. We can’t do the same.”
The family’s ordeal began in the early 1990s, when Israeli Border Police officers showed up on the family’s property in the middle of the night with barricades. “They took the land and they left us the house, saying, ‘This is our land now, and this is your land,'” Amal recalls.
Since then, the family has been tied up in the courts, fighting efforts to forcibly evict them. The JNF has relied on the Absentees Property Law to claim that Amal and her children are not legally entitled to remain in the their home. The law, enacted by Israel in 1950, is a mechanism that allows the state to take possession of land belonging to Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war.
Silwan, home to about 30,000 Palestinians, has been an “area of intensive Israeli Jewish colonization,” says Dr. Salim Tamari, co-editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly and a research fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies. Since the 1990s, Elad has taken over dozens of Palestinian homes in order to settle hundreds of Jewish Israelis there. An investigative report published by +972 last year revealed that Elad and the JNF have been cooperating closely for decades to bolster Jewish presence in East Jerusalem.
The area of the Sumarin property that Israeli police cordoned off years ago now serves as offices for Elad, which runs the City of David archaeological site in Silwan. The site, described as “the place where Jerusalem began,” presents itself as an educational experience, and has become one of the more popular tourist stops in the city. But developing the site as an archeological dig and tourist attraction is merely another strategy “to Judaize Silwan,” says Yoni Mizrahi, an archeologist who worked for the Israeli Antiquities Authority before co-founding the group Emek Shaveh, which focuses on how archeology in Israel is used as a political tool.
“I think we are more like an obstacle in their way to make the City of David wider and wider and wider,” says Amal. “I think they’re going for other houses. My house is only the beginning.”