A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 1999, pages 27, 98
Eviction of Silwan Family Sets the Scene for Accelerated Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem
By Maureen Meehan
Ibrahim Gozlan rarely manages to get out of bed these days. Suffering from severe diabetes, he admits in a barely audible voice that he is overwhelmed by stress and sadness and frustration. He and his immediate family of 28 members recently lost the last in a series of court battles to remain living in the house he built 32 years ago on land his family has owned since the 19th century.
On Dec. 31, Ibrahim’s four sons, their wives and 18 children will be evicted from their home which will be taken over by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which in turn plans to hand it over to the extremist El-Ad settler organization whose stated goal is to settle Jews in Silwan.
Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood of 10,000 people, is set in a beautiful valley just outside the Old City walls. Jews call it the City of David and claim that the ancient kings and prophets lived here and that it was the site of nearly half the major events in the Bible. Therefore, according to the JNF, it is “historical justice” that only Jews should live on this land. The nasty and obviously racist battle to cleanse Silwan of non-Jews is underway with a vengeance. Danny Ziedman, Gozlan’s attorney, calls it “house-to-house combat.”
So far, some six Jewish families have taken over homes in Silwan. In one extraordinary case several years ago, Jewish settlers only managed to force the resident Palestinian family out of half of the house. The house is now literally divided in two, with the Jewish family living on one side (the larger side) of the patio and the Al-Basi family on the other. On the roof of the Jewish side of the house permanently sits an Israeli soldier under a raggedy Israeli flag.
Circumstances surrounding the court battle over the Gozlan house date back to 1924 when Baron Rothschild set up a company, known as PICA, with a charter to buy land in Israel. In 1975, PICA transferred all its property in Israel to the JNF, including Gozlan’s land, despite the fact that it was legally registered with the Jordanian lands registry under the name of “Mohammad Gozlan and his brothers.”
Thirteen years later, in 1987, the Gozlans’ lives changed irrevocably when the JNF began its legal battle to evacuate the family from the land, including the house they had built.
In February 1992, 40-year-old Riad Gozlan tells the Washington Report, a Jerusalem District Court cancelled the Jordanian land registry document stating that it did not prove ownership. In addition, the family was forced to pay nearly $5,000 court costs and the government attorneys’ fees. A long series of painful and expensive legal procedures would follow.
Exactly one week after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office in the spring of 1996, Riad continued, his family received a summons to appear in court again. They ended up appealing to the Supreme Court several months later where it took the judge “all of 10 minutes to reject our claim. They gave us one year to leave our house and then added insult to injury by endorsing an offer from the JNF to give us $75,000 to cover our building costs.”
“More than once, government officials offered my father $2 million to leave the house in 1974 and 1975.
“He told them ”˜my life is here and for no amount of money will I ever remove even my chair from the roof of this house,’” said Riad.
The one-year deadline to vacate the house was extended another six months, which lapsed on Nov. 22. During the week prior to that date, activists from Peace Now and neighbors kept a round-the-clock vigil with the Gozlan family as they waited for the arrival of El-Ad settlers, the JNF and the Israeli security forces which have already made provisions for a forced eviction.
On Nov. 22, a group of settlers, accompanied by police, arrived at the Gozlan house but did not attempt to carry out the eviction. Attorney Zeidman was able to negotiate another several weeks; the new deadline for eviction, which will likely be the last, is Dec. 31.
Zeidman says that regardless of the court decision and the conflicting views of ownership, evicting the Gozlan family is “profoundly immoral.”
“The entire case has been based on circumstantial evidence, and none of the people who could have testified on what really happened are alive. The bottom line is that a family is being evicted from its own home for the sake of an ideological escapade. I have no doubt that the heads of the JNF will find it hard to live with this story, even considering their point of view that all land owned by Jews in Israel should be settled by Jews,” said Zeidman.
He said in his meetings with top JNF officials in an attempt to reach a more humane solution to this problem “they turn their eyes away, move uneasily in their chairs, and say they’re sorry but there is nothing that could be done.”
Zeidman also showed JNF leaders a dry and yellowing letter written on an antique Hebrew typewriter by members of the Jewish community to Mohammad Gozlan in which the latter and his family were thanked for their help in saving Jews during the riots of 1929.
“We wish to express our gratitude to the dear and courageous Mohammad Gozlan...for the warm, humane and exceptional treatment he extended the Jewish residents of Silwan during the 1929 riots, not allowing any harm to befall them by the bands of rioters who paraded through our village...How pleasant was it for our neighbors to personally fulfill the adage of King Solomon: ”˜honor the man who refrains from strife’...We hope that such relations between us continue in perpetuity and that the good Lord reward the righteous for their deeds.”
Not an Isolated Case
The plight of the Gozlan family is not uncommon and the hard-line, nationalist and right-wing religious groups who hold dominant positions in Netanyahu’s fragile coalition have stepped up their activities in East Jerusalem. House demolitions and settlement building are being used by the Israeli authorities and Jerusalem municipality to increase Jewish presence and manipulate the composition of the population in order to gain more control over the city prior to final status talks with the Palestinians. In those talks, the issue of Jerusalem looms as the stumbling block of all stumbling blocks. Ninety-six houses in East Jerusalem have been demolished since the 1993 signing of the Oslo accords, the most recent on Nov. 29.
Working in tandem with the El-Ad group is Ateret Cohanim, which is heavily funded by Florida millionaire Irving Moskowitz and prides itself on having moved at least 65 Jewish families into 40 to 50 buildings throughout the Old City’s crowded Muslim and Christian quarters. It claims it holds titles to another 20 buildings.
Israeli press reports reveal, moreover, that in addition to its wealthy U.S. benefactor, Ateret Cohanim receives secret Israeli government support. More than once, according to Ha’aretz, when Ateret Cohanim or El-Ad was found to be using phony documents and disreputable businessmen to buy or otherwise acquire real estate in East Jerusalem, it turned out that the state was not far in the background.
“But there is no point in combing the state budget for mention of these expenditures. No special section is devoted to these kinds of ventures...when it comes to Jerusalem and the territories, the Israeli government often conducts its business in secret, like a thief in the night,” wrote the Tel Aviv daily Ha’aretz.
“Yet the allocation of funds and assets to right-wing groups in Jerusalem is only a minor component of the massive flow of funds that go to the West Bank and Gaza settlements. Nobody knows exactly how much money has passed through this laundromat.”
Maureen Meehan is a free-lance journalist covering Jerusalem and the West Bank.