Palestinians face Israeli court in Sheikh Jarrah evictions case

Jordan built homes for refugees in East Jerusalem in the 1950s

Protesters rally against Israeli settlement activity in Sheikh Jarrah, occupied East Jerusalem, on July 30. AFP
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A legal battle lasting more than a decade over Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem reaches Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday, when a ruling may be issued that will have a lasting impact far beyond the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

The Sheikh Jarrah case has captured global attention in recent months due to a campaign launched by the Palestinian residents, who risk being evicted and having their homes handed to Israeli settlers.

Protests ahead of the Supreme Court hearing initially scheduled for May were met with an intense response by Israeli police, whose forces used mounted officers, rubber bullets, tear gas and foul-smelling “skunk” liquid against demonstrators.

Some protesters threw stones at police officers during the rallies in April and May, a period in which hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israeli police officers were hurt in clashes around East Jerusalem.

The violence was followed by the 11-day Israel-Gaza war, the worst fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants since 2014.

While the rallies have since subsided, there have been renewed protests in the run-up to the hearing which was rescheduled to August 2.

Police officers have, meanwhile, kept up their presence in the neighbourhood, setting up checkpoints at the entrances to the street where residents are under eviction orders.

All the world is speaking about Sheikh Jarrah.
Saleh Diab, resident

“My son, 11 years old, when he wants to go to school or come back, they want to check him,” said Saleh Diab, whose family is facing an eviction order in a separate case.

The 51-year-old, who was born in Sheikh Jarrah, described the past three months as “a very difficult life” in the neighbourhood.

Living along the street, Mayar Mazen recounted her brother’s encounters at a checkpoint.

“Now when he’s coming to open the door, from here, they’re saying: ‘no, no, you don’t live here, give me your ID',” the 31-year-old said on Saturday, while police officers checked the IDs of boys entering the street.

Close to Jerusalem’s Old City, the area now dotted with consulates and hotels had swathes of open land in the 1950s when the residents’ descendants arrived in Sheikh Jarrah.

East Jerusalem was then under the control of the Jordanian authorities, who built properties for Palestinians who had fled their homes following the establishment of Israel in 1948.

The families’ future was upended by the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, which saw the Jordanians routed from East Jerusalem by the Israeli military.

Israeli law grants those who owned land in East Jerusalem before 1948 the right to reclaim it, while Palestinians are banned from recovering their properties in what became Israel.

Israeli courts have repeatedly ruled in favour of settler organisations that have obtained property deeds, though the high-profile Sheikh Jarrah case has drawn attention to such proceedings.

“Everything is possible in the case of Sheikh Jarrah,” said lawyer Sami Irsheid. He is representing the four families whose case will be heard on Monday.

Israel’s highest court must decide whether to hear the families’ appeal against the eviction orders.

“The court has three options. The first is to reject the application to appeal,” said Mr Irsheid, upholding the lower court’s ruling and paving the way for the families’ eviction.

It could alternatively accept the Palestinians’ case and begin hearing their appeal, or delay such procedures to a later date.

Just days ahead of the hearing, Mr Irsheid and Husni Abu Hussein, another lawyer representing the families, submitted a new legal opinion which they hope will influence the outcome.

It argues that Israeli law does not supersede Jordanian legislation, under which the homes were built and given to the Palestinian residents.

Even if the Supreme Court rules against the Palestinians and gives them a deadline to leave their homes, the Cabinet could delay the police in enforcing the evictions.

“The government can say, ‘right now we cannot send the forces because it’s too delicate’. So they can buy more time, even after a ruling,” said Hagit Ofran, the settlements expert at Israeli NGO Peace Now, at Friday’s protest in the neighbourhood.

Israel’s new government came into office in June and will be wary of a repeat of the violence and unrest seen in Sheikh Jarrah earlier this year.

Opposite a house strewn with Israeli flags, where settlers now live, Mr Diab sat in his home and considered the upcoming hearing.

“All the world is speaking about Sheikh Jarrah,” he said.

“Maybe, they want to give you [a delay of] another six months, to be quiet, and for everyone to forget what happened in Sheikh Jarrah.”

Updated: August 02, 2021, 4:37 AM