Peace Now protests the eviction of Palestinians near the Old City

JERUSALEM — The Jewish National Fund is vowing to press ahead with plans to evict a Palestinian family from the Jerusalem land it has lived on since the 1960s.

At the same time, the JNF is trying to work out a compensation arrangement with the family.

The disputed property in the Silwan neighborhood, just south of Jerusalem's Old City, was purchased in 1923 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild from the Gozlan family and was later turned over to Keren Kayemeth Leisrael, JNF's sister organization in Israel.

Nonetheless, during the Jordanian period, the Gozlans registered the property in their name in a Jordanian deeds book, and built their house in Silwan, which was historically known as the City of David.

However, in 1992, the Jerusalem District Court ruled the Jordanian registration null and void, judging that the JNF was the legal owner of the property.

Last year, Israel's Supreme Court upheld the ruling and gave the family up to 18 months to move. Peace Now vowed to join the Gozlans in resisting the eviction.

The Gozlans have turned down a $75,000 court-ordered settlement for the cost of the house, which was built in 1964. The JNF, according to sources, has offered the family at least another $100,000.

The family has a rich history in the area, including a citation by authorities in the 1920s for protecting Jews during riots.

Peace Now has charged the JNF with serving as a tool for the Israeli settler movement because the property is slated to be turned over to the Elad settlement group, which owns 24 houses in Silwan.

Elad, in turn, has indicated it intends to move five Jewish families into the house as soon as the Arabs leave.

Under JNF's mandate, the group cannot lease land to non-Jews. JNF land is transferred to the Israel Land Authority, which manages all land owned by the JNF or the Israeli government. The Silwan property was leased to Elad by the Israel Land Authority.

JNF spokesman Moshe Pearl rejected the Peace Now charge. He confirmed the facts, but charged that Peace Now misunderstood the role of the JNF. "Our purpose is to care for and promote Jewish settlement," said Pearl.

Peace Now convened a news conference last week at the Gozlans' house, protesting the possible eviction of the family.

Peace Now activist Tsali Reshef said that if the 28 members of the family are evicted, the Palestinian riots of September 1997, prompted by the opening of a new tunnel entrance in Jerusalem's Old City, would be dwarfed by what would happen in Silwan.

However, the JNF insists that the family has no right to the property, that it had settled there illegally and that the land legally belongs to the JNF.