Palestinians battle for their homes in East Jerusalem


Al Aqsa Mosque can be seen from East Jerusalem, where families constantly face the threat of forced eviction by Israeli settler groups supported by the State. Picture by Free Jerusalem. used with permission.

The Ghaith family, living in Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter since 1945, has been fighting forced eviction from their home for four decades. Israeli settler organizations persist in their efforts to displace them and seize their home for Jewish settlement. The recent court ruling favored the settler group and left the family unprotected. 

Nora Ghaith’s family has lived in this house since 1948. The family obtained a rent contract from the Jordanian government in 1953, which assumed custodianship of Jerusalem in 1950 in the aftermath of 1948 Nakbah (“Catastrophe”).  

Art at the entrance of the house depicting Nora holding a protest placard. Picture provided by Free Jerusalem. Used with permission

The Nakbah led to the destruction of Palestinian society and the displacement of over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians to make room for the establishment of Israel.

Palestinians were forced to leave their lives and properties behind, and for the last seven decades they have been fighting for their right to return home.

Since 1953, the Ghaith family has been classified as “protected tenants,” safeguarding them from eviction as long as this status holds.

Despite the 1967 “Naksa” (“setback”), when Israel assumed control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in what the UN deemed as an illegal annexation, the family has maintained their designation and faithfully paid rent to the Israeli General Custodian

In a WhatsApp conversation between Global Voices and human rights activist Raafat Sub Laban — Nora Ghaith's son, and a UNHCR employee — he shed light on his family’s connection with the house. His father Mustafa Sub Laban, 73 years old, joined his wife Nora, who is now 68 years old, at the time of their marriage in 1978, and they have been living there ever since. Sub Laban elaborates:

My mother lived there all her life. In the 1970s, the Shuvu Banim settler movement tried to blackmail my uncle [Nora’s brother] to acquire the tenancy rights. He was the head of the family after his parents’ death. However, upon his refusal, the settler orchestrated his deportation to Jordan. My mother and father assumed responsibility for the house at that point.

The Sub Laban family has deep roots in Jerusalem, predating the establishment of Israel by decades. Their lineage traces back to a Sufi scholar who moved to Jerusalem in 1692. The family had several properties, including the notable building that houses the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem, confiscated by Israel in 1948 and 1967. This historical context explains the family’s home attachment, as described by Sub Laban. 

We have always been conscious that this property is the last remaining one for my parents, and it has been important for us to safeguard it.  We always made sure to maintain a presence in the house. 

Our properties were confiscated by Israel, and as Palestinians we are denied the right to reclaim ownership. Meanwhile, Jewish individuals are granted the right to reclaim property, regardless of ownership. This is simply unfair.

In the 1970s, Israel enacted an administrative law that perpetuates a system of apartheid and discrimination, by favoring Jews over non-Jews. It allows settlers to reclaim pre-1948 Jewish-owned properties in East Jerusalem, even if unrelated. However, Palestinians are denied the right to claim their own properties in West Jerusalem. This law has been exploited by settler organizations to undermine Palestinian ownership rights across East Jerusalem.

A lifelong legal battle

The Ghaith Sub Laban family has been entangled in a 40-year legal battle against settler groups.

According to Israeli NGO Ir Amim, dedicated to promoting a more equitable Jerusalem, the family's case involves the Atara Leyoshna group affiliated with the Ateret Cohanim, a notorious settler organization known for its efforts to Judaize Jerusalem and displace indigenous residents, including a high-profile attempt to seize iconic Christian hotel properties near Jaffa Gate.

Sub Laban highlights that other Palestinian families have faced a gradual eviction:

The apartment next door to my family’s home, which was originally occupied by the Karaki family, who were forcibly evicted in 1982 or 1983. The settlers then expanded the apartment and blocked my family’s entrance. The only means to enter the apartment was though a neighbor's unit. In response, my parents pursued legal action and endured a 17-year-old wait until a judge finally allowed them to open a new entrance.

Nora protests with her family members. Palestinians are not allowed to raise their flag; they use the picture of watermelon instead as it has the same colors. 19 June 2023. Picture by Free Jerusalem. Used with permission.

In May 2010, based on the 1970s law, the General Custodian transferred the ownership of the Ghaith-Sub Laban property to Atara Leyoshna. 

Shortly after gaining ownership, Atara Leyoshna initiated an eviction claim against the family. The case reached the Supreme Court in 2016. The court ruled to evict Nora and Mustafa's children but granted the couple, as protected tenants, the right to remain in their home for an additional 10 years, breaking the family apart. 

In 2018, Israeli settlers launched another eviction lawsuit, claiming that Nora and Mustafa had violated the terms of their “protected tenancy” by spending time away from home. Nora needed medical assistance and temporarily stayed at Raafat's residence in Shofat camp, where he had moved with his younger sister after their eviction. This arrangement was necessary, as per Raafat’s account, the children were prohibited from staying overnight with their parents.

In early 2018, my mother went on an Umrah pilgrimage. She already had issues with discs in her lower back and neck, which worsened during the journey. As she required assistance while recovering, she stayed with me. 

The settlers closely monitored my parents’ movement using cameras, and they noticed my mother's absence. However, my father traveled between their home and my residence during that time.

The settlers exploited Nora’s absence during her recovery to argue that she had forfeited her protected tenancy status. Despite having medical records from Israeli health service providers as evidence, the lower court unjustly ruled in favor of the settler group. The family's request to appeal against the decision was recently rejected by the Supreme Court. 

Unexpected allies fight with the family

A diplomatic mission at the Ghaith Sub Laban house. The mission met with Palestinian families under the threat of forced eviction. It included representatives from Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Picture provided by Raafat Sub Laban. Used with permission.

Nora and Mustafa are facing imminent eviction, scheduled between June 28 and July 23, 2023. Exhausting all legal avenues, their only hope now lies in government intervention, which can be influenced by public pressure and advocacy efforts, as per Raafat’s account.

Free Jerusalem, a collective of radical Israeli activists based in West Jerusalem, is dedicated to resisting Israeli apartheid and supporting Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem. Their mission encompasses fighting against family displacements, home demolitions, police brutality, settler violence, among other unjust practices and policies carried out by Israel. 

The movement has been supporting the Ghaith Sub Laban family since 2015. They have been providing round-the-clock support to the family at their home to garner attention and solidarity from both Israeli and international communities.

In a WhatsApp conversation with Global Voices, Gal Kramarski, a spokesperson for the movement, exposed Israel's complex and influential mechanism designed to displace Palestinians and expel them from Jerusalem, creating opportunities for Zionist settlers to replace them. She highlighted the manipulation of discriminatory laws through a pseudo-legal process to forcefully evict families and leave them homeless.

Hundreds of families face this threat and live in constant fear and anxiety. This alarming reality, which we also see in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and other Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, is what the Ghaith-Sub Laban family is currently facing.

We emphasize that this is not merely a property dispute, as Israel claims, it is ethnic cleansing, and it must be stopped.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.