Palestinians facing eviction can stay home – for now
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a partial victory to a group of Palestinian families whose impending eviction from their homes in East Jerusalem contributed to tensions that led to the 11-day war in Gaza last year. last.
After years of legal battles, Israel’s highest court has accepted the families’ main argument, allowing them to stay in their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood until the dispute over ownership of the property is resolved. resolved – a process that experts say could take years, if resolved at all.
In the meantime, the court has ruled that the four families can stay in their homes as protected tenants and pay reduced annual rent of around $750 each into a trust account, with the money ultimately going to whoever wins. property rights.
The court ruling defused a potentially explosive issue, even as tensions in East Jerusalem remain high.
While Sheikh Jarrah is now predominantly Arab, a small Jewish community lived in the neighborhood from the late 19th century until the war that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948, after which the area fell under control Jordanian.
Israel captured the eastern part of the city, including Sheikh Jarrah, from Jordan in the 1967 war, then annexed it in a move that most countries in the world have never recognized.
Palestinian families and activists challenging the deportations have argued that they are part of a larger Israeli effort to displace Palestinians from East Jerusalem in order to cement Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the territory.
The Supreme Court justices wrote in their decision on Tuesday that “at the heart of the process is the complex history of Jerusalem and the changes of government that have taken place there.”
In the 1950s, Jordan built houses for Palestinian refugee families in what had been the Jewish compound, although it never transferred ownership to the families. After Israel took control of the area, ownership was transferred to two Jewish associations, which then sold the rights to a group of Jewish settlers.
Palestinian residents were allowed to stay as protected tenants on the condition that they pay rent to the new landlords, but many Palestinian families refused on principle.
For years, Israeli courts have treated the house-to-house ownership battle as a legalistic dispute over property. But the land has strong attachments to Palestinians and Jews.
The Jewish community of Sheikh Jarrah was centered around a Jewish-held shrine to be the ancient tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, or Simeon the Just, a Jewish high priest of the Second Temple era. And since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, successive Israeli leaders have promised that their capital will never again be divided.
Palestinians have long called for East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.
The deportation cases also highlighted a legal double standard: the families settled in Sheikh Jarrah by Jordan were Palestinian refugees from what is now Israel. While Jewish Israelis can reclaim land they owned in East Jerusalem before 1948, Palestinians have no similar legal recourse to reclaim homes they once owned in what is now Israel.
Four months ago, the same four families rejected a court-proposed compromise along the same lines as Tuesday’s ruling because it did not recognize them as owners of their homes and would have forced them to pay a rent to settler organizations.
This time, said Sami Arsheid, a lawyer representing the families, since it was a court decision, “it wasn’t about agreeing or not”.
Families will have to respect the court’s decision, he said, while still having the opportunity to prove their ownership without the threat of imminent eviction.
Mr Arsheid said it was up to the Justice Department to decide how to proceed with regard to settling property rights. The process has been “frozen since 1967”, he said, and was not about to be finalized any time soon.
He added that Tuesday’s decision could affect the cases of several other Palestinian families facing eviction, including nine others from Sheikh Jarrah who are still making their way through the courts.
Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right lawmaker who supports Jewish settlers, decried the court’s decision as a “dark, illegal and undemocratic decision that goes against the values of the rule of law and sets a very serious precedent from which squatters will benefit”.
Mr Ben Gvir recently set up his parliamentary office in a tent in Sheikh Jarrah, in a ploy, he said, to bring more police and security to the area to protect Jewish settlers from attack, but his presence raised tensions there.
The court ruling could help calm the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which has been the scene of frequent clashes, but violence has recently erupted elsewhere in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Clashes between Palestinians and police have occurred at another frequent flashpoint, Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City. A Palestinian girl was injured there on Monday after being hit in the jaw by a police stun grenade.
Overnight, two Palestinian men were reportedly killed by Israeli forces during a clash in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, where Border Police officers were carrying out an arrest operation.
On Tuesday, a third Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire in the southern West Bank.
The Israeli military said soldiers spotted two “suspects” approaching an Israeli memorial in the West Bank and shot them as they fled. One of them was later declared dead, according to the army.