Sheikh Jarrah's Families Face Their Israeli Tormentors

Published December 22nd, 2021 - 02:42 GMT
Palestinian flag
A demonstrator raises her hand, painted with the colours of the Palestinian flag on 30 July 2021. [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images]

It is touch and go in occupied East Jerusalem. Nobody can be certain what will happen to the Palestinian families living Jerusalem's  neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

They are fighting the Jewish settlers who are seeking to evict them through the Israeli courts but nobody is quite certain how this will be played out despite the fact many have been issued eviction notices.

The Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah have long become a flashpoint in the Arab-Israeli conflict and in part responsible for the last flareup May 11-day war on Gaza that caused much devastation through Israeli bombing. Then, it was their imminent eviction - again through the Israeli justice system - that forced Hamas to engage in a conflict with Israel that since proved costly to both sides.

This action effectively forced the Israeli to back off about the expulsion of Palestinian families but, it is starting again mainly through Jewish settler harassment, Israeli police and the due legal process. At least four Palestinian families face direct eviction with others have already been served with notices to leave by Israeli courts.

The plight of the Palestinian families have been heart-breaking, but Israeli politicians, settler groups and the Jewish courts would have non of it. There is much trickery played out all to the favour of the settlers in a bid to Judaize the holy city of Jerusalem and empty it out of its Palestinian population.

The Jordan role

The original families of Sheikh Jarrah were 28 in number. They moved into the area in the early 1950s coming there after 1948 when Israel was established and forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian off their lands. In the second half of the 1950s an agreement was made between Jordan and UNRWA to house those families in Shiekh Jarrah for a nominal fees.

Those families never received the title deeds of their lands because of the June 1967 war where Israel occupied Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Further, Israel came to impose its own laws and negated what Jordan promised the 28 tenants who had been living in Sheikh Jarah at least since 1956.

In 1972 the Israeli Knesset passed a law where Jews where allowed to claim lands and property which they allegedly lost in 1948 which included those in Sheikh Jarrah. By contrast the Palestinians couldn't claim under such law for it didn't apply to them as dictated by the Israeli occupation authorities. Besides they were claims that back in 1972 the Jewish settlers had forged papers to show that areas in Sheikh Jarrah belonged to Jews.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah continued to increase as per natural growth. Today the original 28 families jumped to around 65 with population jumping to around 500 although some statistics show that there are 1000 Palestinians living in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood, two kilometres north of the Old City on Jabal Al Masahref (Mount Scopus).

And now!

The organization that is leading the legal battle is the Israeli Nahalat Shimon settler association that claims it now owns the land and homes the Palestinian families are living in. It states they bought these from the Jews that lived in the area prior to 1948.

While this claim has been seen as dubious at best, nevertheless the Israeli courts have ruled in their favour leading to the present eviction notices.

Presently families like el-Kurd, Jaouni, Qasim, Skafi, Attia and Al Salem families face immediate evictions. They say however, they are not leaving because this is the only homes they know and raised their families in for over 70 years. They have been under the belief that this is their home promised them and paid to the Jordanian authorities and UNRWA and they will rather die than submit to the Israel or the Jewish settlers.

Tensions have been raising high and emotions even higher. The Palestinian families are here to stay. The Skafi family say they have been offered $5 million to vacate their home but they refuse to leave. But there is always the fear that push will come to shove and they will be forced to evacuate under the guns of the Israeli police because of the relentless pressure of the settlers.

Israel's top court

The case of Sheikh Jarrar has gone all the way to the top, the Israeli Supreme Court. It looked into the case of the Palestinian residents versus the Israel settlers back in October but found out there is no easy way out. The two-penal judges finally came up with a compromise that was neither accepted by the Palestinians nor the Israeli settlers.

It ruled that the Palestinian residents would be turned into "protected tenants" that can stay in the properties, ie. their homes for the next 15 years in return for paying an annual fee of $763 to the Nahalat Shimon association. In turn they wouldn't be bothered and as well the Palestinian residents would have to be the legal costs of Nahalet amounting to about $9,300.

However the Nahalet settlers said they would only agree if the Palestinian residents recognise the properties they are living in are now legally owned by the settler organization. However, the former have consistently said "no" since they have been living here for decades. It is their right and reflects their Palestinian identity and existence.

Today the battle continues! The Israelis can keep pushing through the courts. The Supreme Court is the final destination and ruling and further legal processes may continue to be taken under different hearings and injunctions but the issue of Sheikh Jarrah has long become an international issue, spotlighted particularly by the Europeans as underlined by a top EU delegation lead by Sven Kuhn von Burgsorff who heads the EU Mission in the West Bank and Gaza.

The delegation which included members from Canada and Switzerland visited the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and the Al Salem family who are also facing an eviction order and must leave by 28 December. “How on earth is it possible that a family can be evicted at Christmas, in the middle of the winter?” von Burgsorff questioned.

What will happen now? The Israeli courts, their  judges and police appear to be in a conundrum. Whilst they can force the issue and evict under arms or they can stretch the issue and let it roll because of the pressure they are facing, domestically and globally while under the spotlight of the international media.

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