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Israel’s top court holds hearing on Sheikh Jarrah evictions

03-08-2021

JERUSALEM/ GAZA CITY: Israel’s Supreme Court adjourned an appeal from four Palestinian families against their forced expulsion from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, as the families say they have rejected a court proposal for them to stay as “protected tenants” but recognize Israeli ownership.

The cases examined on Monday involved four Palestinian families, numbering a total of about 70 people.

Lower Israeli courts have approved the expulsions of the four families to make way for Jewish settlers. They ruled that their houses were built on land owned by Jews before Israel was established in 1948 but weighing a last-ditch appeal from the residents, the court suggested a deal that would give them status as “protected tenants” who would recognize Israeli ownership of the homes and pay a symbolic annual rent, but they refused.

Justice Isaac Amit called for further documentation and said, “We will publish a decision later,” but did not set a date.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from the court in West Jerusalem, said the judge offered the Palestinian families the option to sign a document stating that the land belongs to the Jewish settlers.

“In return, they have guaranteed rent in that house for the next three generations,” Abdel-Hamid said.

“They placed a lot of pressure on us to reach an agreement with the Israeli settlers in which we would be renting from the settler organizations,” said Muhammad al-Kurd, from one of four Palestinian families at the heart of the case.

“Of course, this is rejected,” he said.

Sami Ershied, a lawyer representing the Palestinian families, also told Al Jazeera that the proposal was unacceptable.

“So far, we did not hear an offer that was fair enough and preserves the rights of residents. Therefore, we did not reach any compromise,” Ershied said.

Still, he said the hearing was “a good step forward”.

“The judges indicated that they will invite us for a second hearing. They did not reject our appeal yet; this is a good indication,” he said.

“We hope that the judges will continue listening to our arguments and take into consideration all the new details we’ve submitted and at the end of the day, conclude in favour of the residents of Sheikh Jarrah,” he said.

Ershied added that the court will decide when to schedule the next hearing, and that it could be held in a matter of weeks or months.

Long legal battle

The Supreme Court had been scheduled to issue a ruling in May, but it delayed its decision after the attorney general requested more time to consider the cases.

The threatened expulsions fuelled protests that met a harsh crackdown by Israeli security forces in April and May and pose a test for Israel’s new governing coalition, which includes three pro-settlement parties and a small party representing Palestinian citizens of Israel. For the sake of unity, the government has tried to sideline Palestinian issues to avoid internal divisions.

Weeks of unrest highlighted by heavy-handed Israeli police tactics against residents and demonstrators who supported them captured international attention before the 11-day Israeli bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip in May.

A ceasefire took effect on May 21, but the long-running campaign by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families has continued.

The settlers have been waging a decades-long campaign to expel the families from densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods just outside the walls of the Old City, in one of the most sensitive parts of occupied East Jerusalem.

The settlers have claimed the homes are built on land that was owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim such property, a right denied to Palestinians who lost lands and homes in the same conflict.

Jordan controlled East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967. The families, who were made refugees during the 1948 war, have said that Jordanian authorities offered them their homes in exchange for giving up their refugee status.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in 1967 and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The two-state solution laid out by the 1993 Oslo Accords envisioned the three areas as part of a Palestinian state.

In 1972, settler groups told the families that they were trespassing on Jewish-owned land. That was the start of a long legal battle that in recent months has culminated with expulsion orders against 36 families in Sheikh Jarrah and two other neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.

Rights groups said other families are also vulnerable, estimating that more than 1,000 Palestinians are at risk of being evicted.

“Whatever the judge rules for both the settlers and the Palestinian families is going to set the tone for what happens next,” Abdel-Hamid said. (Al Jazeera)

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