Israel’s Supreme Court delays ruling on Sheikh Jarrah forced evictions case

The court offered the Palestinians a compromise deal as per which Palestinians could live in their homes for the next three generations in exchange for accepting Jewish ownership of the land and paying token rent

August 03, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Court room following the ruling to delay the eviction order. Photo: Mohammed al-Kurd / Twitter

Israel’s Supreme Court delayed the verdict in the case of eviction of Palestinian of Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Four Palestinian families comprising of about 70 people filed an appeal against their imminent illegal eviction by Israeli authorities based on extremist Israeli settler groups claim that the land originally belongs to Jews living there before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. 

Lower courts in Israel had given the green light for the evictions to take place, giving rise to fear that hundreds of other families in Sheikh Jarrah and other surrounding East Jerusalem neighborhoods would be targeted next in what pro-Palestinian activists and human rights organizations have described as Israel’s goal to slowly ‘Judaize’ the area.

The Supreme Court on Monday said that it needs more time to make a final decision in the matter and needs to hear more arguments from both the parties. A news report stated that another hearing has been scheduled after seven days. 

The decision to defer the verdict also came after the court had offered the Palestinians a ‘compromise’ proposal of the Palestinians conceding ownership of their land to the Nahalat Shimon settler group and paying a symbolic rent to obtain a ‘protected tenant’ status. With that status, the Palestinian families would be safe from eviction and their next three generations will be allowed to live in their homes.

Palestinians summarily rejected the proposal. One of the Palestinians threatened with eviction, Alaa Salayma said “the minute we pay rent for our homes, it means we have given up ownership. This is not an option. We are the owners of these homes.” 

Well known twin brother-sister activist duo, Muna and Mohammed of the al-Kurd family which is also a party to the case, said that they were being pressured to accept the compromise deal but ultimately they rejected it. They also expressed little hope in the Israeli justice system. Mohammed said that “I don’t think this system will ever be fair or just. This entire country was established on land theft and stealing homes from Palestinians.”

The original decision in the case was scheduled to be delivered in May, however, it was postponed after the attorney general of Israel requested the court for more time to examine the case. In the months of April and May this year, violent attempts were made by Israeli security forces and extremist Jewish settlers to forcibly evict the Palestinians, leading to massive demonstrations by the Palestinian residents along with thousands of others.

The Palestinian resistance was met with brutality and even more violence. Israeli forces attacked them with rubber bullets, tear gas canisters and sound bombs. Many protesters were physically assaulted and arrested for taking part in the demonstrations. In May, Israel also bombed Gaza for 11 days, reportedly on the pretext that rockets were fired towards Israel in retaliation to the Israeli violence against Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The Israeli bombings ended up killing close to 250 Palestinians and injuring around 2,000.

The Israeli Supreme Court, bowing down to increasing international criticism and Palestinian resolve, ordered the authorities to temporarily suspend the evictions pending appeal. 

Similar efforts to ethnically cleanse Palestinians in other East Jerusalem neighborhoods, such as Batan al-Hawa, have put approximately 150 Palestinian families comprising of over a 1,000 people at risk of being displaced. Several other adjoining neighborhoods, such as Silwan, are also being threatened by Israel with demolitions and expulsion. Forced expulsions and ethnic cleansing to transfer the occupied land to Jews or to build Jewish settlements on them is a war crime and in violation of international law. The illegal Israeli settlements are also not recognized by the international community which has repeatedly called upon Israel to put an end to its settlement expansion and construction.

Many of the Palestinians who have been living there were given the land in 1956 while East Jerusalem was under the control of neighboring Jordan. They had been displaced and made homeless during the founding of the state of Israel when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes in what Palestinians call Nakba (catastrophe). The homes were constructed under the supervision of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). 

Israeli settlers laying claim to the lands say that it belonged to Jews during the 19th century when Palestine was part of the Ottoman empire. However this claim has been debunked by one of the lawyers for the Palestinian families Husni Abu Hussein who traveled to Turkey to check Ottoman archives. The Turkish foreign ministry has also asserted that “the settlers have no right, that the documents they have are forged.”

Israeli human rights group, Ir Amin, responding to the developments yesterday in a statement said that “without the public’s knowledge, the authorities have been discreetly registering land rights of properties in Um Haroun to alleged Jewish owners. Such a move is unprecedented and has potential acute ramifications on Palestinian properties not only in Sheikh Jarrah but across East Jerusalem which could ultimately lead to widespread Palestinian dispossession in the city and expansion of Jewish settlement.” Ir Amin added that the Israeli government must be “brought under intense pressure to “end these measures of dispossession.”

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