A family is being threatened with eviction during a global pandemic, and your money may be helping to fund it.
Growing up in Jewish day school, I was fascinated with the ancient past. I still remember pretending to dig up Israeli artifacts in second grade. That’s probably why when I actually visited Jerusalem in 8th grade I kept picking up shards on the ground — aka pieces of trash — thinking they might be ancient artifacts. So, when we went to the City of David, the so-called home of King David and an ancient-Jerusalem themed tourist park, I was fascinated.
When we walked from the Western Wall to the City of David, I didn’t realize that we were actually going from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem, that there was actually an unseen border where on one side people had all their rights, and on the other they didn’t. I was just excited to see King David, the first Jewish super hero.
Almost 14 years later, I still remember that at the end of the City of David tour they added a quick disclaimer: they don’t have definitive proof this is where King David lived. I remember thinking, so then why build a whole museum about it, here?
If you’ve visited Jerusalem there’s a good chance you’ve taken a tour of the City of David. Framed around an archaeological dig, the park claims to be uncovering King David’s palace. The website tagline reads: “Where it All Began.” Though City of David is classified as a national park, the site is operated by the right-wing settler Ir David Foundation, more properly known by their Hebrew acronym Elad. Elad’s mission is to Judaize East Jerusalem. They pursue this mission in two major ways:
- Manipulating the legal system in collaboration with other groups like the JNF to evict Palestinian families from their homes and turn over their properties to Jewish settlers and development projects.
- Creating tourist attractions that both perpetuate a mythology of Jewish primacy in Jerusalem and erase Palestinian connections to the land.
It wasn’t until I joined the anti-occupation movement with IfNotNow that I realized I had participated in this mythology. The City of David isn’t actually an ancient historical artifact, it’s a reminder to the Palestinian people in East Jerusalem that Jews belong here, and they don’t.
But, if you’re a thirteen year-old Jewish boy idolizing King David, or if you’re just really excited about archaeology, you’d have no idea that your heritage is being used to dispossess Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
Two years ago I returned to the City of David, but this time it was right after I walked off a Birthright trip with a few others. Once again, the reality of the occupation was being hidden from us, but this time we chose to face reality. Instead of entering the City of David, we visited the Sumarin family.
The Sumarin family, whose home is right across from the entrance of the City of David, have been targeted by Elad’s two prong-approach to dispossess Palestinians for years. Despite having lived in their home for decades beforehand, in 1989 the Jewish National Fund — known by most American Jews as primarily a tree-planting organization — took possession of the house by using something called the Absentee Property Law. Under this law, if it can be established that the original owner of the property is absent — often through shady justifications such as the owner having passed away or spending extended time in the West Bank or another country while their family remains in the home — then the Israeli land authorities can claim ownership of the home, and then choose to pass it to an organization like the JNF. This happened to the Sumarins, whose home was given to the JNF without the family’s knowledge, and then in 1991 the JNF began suing to evict them. The Sumarin family’s story is also the story of thousands of Palestinian families who are losing or have lost their homes in East Jerusalem since 1967.
Why would the JNF want to evict a Palestinian family from their home? According to testimony by the JNF’s lawyer at the time, Abraham Hilleli, “We have an interest for those properties to be under Jewish ownership.”
Though the JNF’s 1991 eviction lawsuit against the Sumarins was dismissed, they have continued to press for eviction over the past 30 years. On June 30th, the family’s final appeal to remain in their home will be heard by an Israeli court. If they lose their case and are evicted — in the midst of a global pandemic — we can expect the JNF to follow the typical pattern in these cases: turning the property over to Elad or another right-wing settler organization. This particular form of dispossession and settlement is only possible because of the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. This is what annexation looks like for thousands of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and this will be the reality for thousands more Palestinian families as Netanyahu moves to annex deeper into the West Bank.
During your visit to the City of David you may not have even realized that you were standing on occupied territory — I certainly didn’t. East Jerusalem was illegally annexed by Israel after the 1967 War; a legal status that has never been accepted by the international community. As a tourist it’s easy to move across seemingly invisible lines and convoluted legal statuses. But for the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem the reality of occupation cannot be ignored. Eighty percent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem live below the poverty line and though they pay taxes they don’t receive nearly the amount of municipal services needed. They cannot leave the city for long periods of time without risking having their residency revoked, which would prevent them from ever returning home. CJNV delegates also know from our work with Palestinian partners in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Batan al-Hawa — across the ravine from the Sumarin family — that their children face frequent harassment and arrest from armed private security guards that accompany Israeli settlers and from the police.
When you go to the City of David, your entrance fee funds a major player in this dispossession apparatus: Elad. But it also pays for propaganda — a fairy tale the park is overjoyed to tell you. The actual archaeology done at the site doesn’t support this claim: at this time there is no evidence of King David at the site and discoveries of artifacts that conflict with a story of Jewish primacy and biblical timelines are ignored or misrepresented. Still you’ll find yourself encouraged to imagine a variety of historical events taking place where you stand, asked to draw a direct connection between your ancestors — if you’re Jewish — and this specific piece of highly contested land.
In the early days of the state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion supported ideologically-motivated archaeology — standing on the shoulders of longstanding traditions that have existed in archaeology — in a desperate bid to create a unified national mythos and a shared connection to the land among a heterogeneous population of Ashkenazi Zionists and Mizrahi refugees. This embellished vision of what binds our community together is what is being sold to us at City of David: a story that erases the complexity of our various relationships to the land, to Diaspora, to our Jewishness, and to our relationships with the many other peoples we have lived with and among throughout our histories. At CJNV we are modeling a new kind of Jewish community. A community that has room for Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists. One that has space for Jews who practice in many different traditional ways and Jews who are creating new practices for future generations. And most importantly a community that has room for Palestinians and cultivates the bravery to stand in solidarity as they struggle for their right to remain in their homes.
We hope you’ll join us in supporting the Sumarin family. You can send a letter to the JNF through this link https://drove.com/.28uC