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Palestinian families reject Israeli court’s deal to delay evictions from east Jerusalem homes

Israel Palestinians
Palestinian activist Muna al-Kurd, center, speaks at a news conference in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, with her father, right, and neighbors, November 2, 2021.

Mahmoud Illean/AP


Palestinian families facing eviction from their homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah have rejected a deal proposed by an Israeli court that would have delayed their evictions but seen temporary ownership of their houses granted to an Israeli settler group.

The four families, who would have had to pay rent to the settlers for 15 years under the deal, rejected it on Tuesday because of their “belief in the justice of our cause and our right to our homes and our homeland,” according to a statement quoted by The Associated Press. The agreement would have given them “protected tenant” status, but meant they had to accept settler ownership of their homes, at least temporarily.

In the statement, the families said the proposed deal forced them to “choose between our own dispossession or submitting to an oppressive agreement.” Theirs is one of a number of cases being fought in Israeli courts by Palestinian residents in Jerusalem who are being threatened with eviction by settler organizations.

A deadly conflict broke out in May between Israel and Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, after protests over the possible eviction of Palestinian families from their homes and scuffles at the Al Aqsa mosque between Israeli police and Palestinians.


Fragile Israel and Hamas cease-fire holding

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More than 200 people were killed, mostly Palestinians in Gaza, during the 11-day flare-up of the decades-old conflict in the heart of the Middle east.

“The international community has long maintained that settler expansion and forced expulsion in Sheikh Jarrah are war crimes,” the families said in their statement. “Thus it must respond to grave international law violations with real diplomatic and political repercussions. The culture of inaction and impunity must not be maintained.”

Roots of the Sheikh Jarrah dispute

The dispute over homes in Sheikh Jarrah is part of long-standing tensions over who has the right to various patches of land in Jerusalem.

In the 1940s, Britain’s control over what had been Palestine ended, and ownership and control of the land were partitioned by the international community through the United Nations. But there was no agreement on two separate Jewish and Arab states. In 1948, the dispute resulted in a war through which Israel declared independence and gained control over more territory than had been proposed by the U.N.

Many people were displaced during the conflict, and many Palestinians became refugees. At the end of the war, Jordan had control over parts of Jerusalem, including the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which had earlier been home to a Jewish community.

Tension over the possible eviction of several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood
Israeli police stand guard as a car belonging to Jewish settlers burns amid tension over the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, May 6, 2021.

AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS


In 1956, Palestinian refugee families moved into some homes in Sheikh Jarrah that were built with the support of the Jordanian government and the United Nations.

War broke out again in 1967 between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors. At the end of that “Six-Day War,” Israel had occupied east Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah, and in 1980, it annexed the territory. Most countries still do not recognize Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem, however.

Tension over Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem is important to both Israelis and Palestinians, who want at least part of it to be the capital of a future independent state. 

In 1972, almost 20 years after Palestinians settled in Sheikh Jarrah, right-wing Jewish settler groups started launching legal challenges to the Palestinians’ claims to the land, initiating the legal battles that continue today.

FILE PHOTO: Jerusalem clashes ahead of court case on Palestinians' eviction
Jewish settlers (right) gesture during a confrontation with a Palestinian resident amid tension ahead of an upcoming court hearing in an Israeli-Palestinian land-ownership dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, May 3, 2021.

AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS


The settlers say they have a legal right to the land based on an Israeli law that permits Jews to recover property abandoned during the war in 1948. There is no equivalent law for Palestinians, who have been unable to reclaim land they abandoned or were forced to leave during the war.

The United Nations Commission for Human Rights has called the forced removal of Palestinian families a potential war crime. Israeli officials have called it a “real-estate dispute between private parties.”

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