Dozens of Palestinians face a looming dispossession of their homes in the occupied Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, in what they say is a move to expel them and replace it entirely with a Jewish settlement.
The Jerusalem District Court ruled that at least six families must leave their homes in Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday, despite living there for generations.
The same court ruled that seven more families are expected to vacate their homes by August 1. A total of 58 people, including 17 children, are expected to be forcibly displaced to make way for Jewish settlers.
The court rulings are the culmination of a decades-long struggle to keep these Palestinians at home. In 1972, several Jewish settler organizations filed a lawsuit against Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah, alleging that the land originally belonged to Jews.
These groups, mostly funded by American donors, waged a fierce battle that resulted in the displacement of 43 Palestinians in 2002, as well as the Hanoun and Ghawi families in 2008 and the Shamasneh family in 2017.
What is the story of Karm al-Jaouni in Sheikh Jarrah?
In 1956, 28 Palestinian refugee families displaced from their homes in the coastal towns of Yafa and Haifa eight years earlier finally settled in the Karm al-Jaouni area in Sheikh Jarrah.
The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was at the time under the mandate of Jordan, which entered into an agreement with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRWA) to build housing for these families. The agreement stipulated that families had to relinquish their refugee status in exchange for land titles signed in their name after three years of living in the region.
However, this did not happen and in 1967 Jordan lost its mandate because East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel.
Khalil Toufakji, a Palestinian cartographer and expert on Jerusalem, said he traveled to Ankara in 2010 to search the Ottoman-era archives for a document that denies any Jewish ownership of Karm al-Jaouni.
“I found the deed and presented it to the Israeli District Court, which quickly rejected it,” Toufakji told Al Jazeera.
After digging further, Toufakji discovered in 1968 that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, had issued a decree – signed by the finance minister at the time – that declared Israel to be bound by the Jordan-UNRWA deal.
“This fact is what was raised in the High Court in Jerusalem on behalf of the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah,” he said, but added that there is little reason to believe that the court will will rule in their favor.
“The Israeli courts – judge, jury and law – are all at the service of Jewish settlers,” he said.
How do Palestinians see the role of Israeli courts?
Under international law, the Israeli justice system has no legal authority over the population it occupies.
Last month a appeal Palestinian human rights groups at UN special procedures say Israel’s discriminatory legal basis “provides the basis for the creation of an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people as a whole” .
“Not only has Israel illegally extended its national civil legal system in occupied East Jerusalem, but it has adopted more discriminatory laws and policies that require the confiscation of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem in favor of settlers, the forcible transfer of Palestinians. and the expansion of the Israeli-Jewish presence in the city, ”says the call.
Fayrouz Sharqawi, Director of Global Mobilization for Grassroots Jerusalem, previously Told Al Jazeera, it is “absurd” to rely on the Israeli justice system to protect the rights of Palestinians.
“This system is an integral part of the colonial Zionist state, which identifies itself as a ‘Jewish state’ and consequently and systematically oppresses, dispossesses and displaces Palestinians,” she said.
What was Jordan’s response?
The Jordanian foreign ministry said on Thursday that it had handed over 14 official documents relating to the construction of housing units in Sheikh Jarrah to the Palestinian Authority.
The documents show that the then Development Ministry reached an agreement with UNRWA to build 28 housing units for Palestinian refugee families.
The ministry’s official spokesman, Daifallah al-Fayez, said in a declaration that Jordan is committed to providing all possible support to the Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah.
“Keeping the Palestinian Jerusalemites rooted in their land is a national principle in Jordan’s efforts to support our Palestinian brethren,” he said.
According to Zakariah Odeh, director of the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, Jordan should do more to safeguard the current and future situation of the Karm al-Jaouni families.
“Jordan has a responsibility to solve this problem because these Palestinian families have implemented their end of the agreement, which was to relinquish their refugee status,” he said.
“There are plans to build 255 settlement units in place of Palestinian houses,” he continued. “Jordan owes it to the dozens of families who are threatened with displacement and should intervene at the political and diplomatic level.”
How does Israel’s displacement policy relate to its strategy of occupation in occupied East Jerusalem?
Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is largely unrecognized by the international community.
Israel school project, which aims to consolidate Israel’s control over the city, is also considered illegal under international law.
About 200,000 Israeli citizens live in East Jerusalem under military and police protection, the largest settlement complex housing 44,000 Israelis.
“Sheikh Jarrah is just one example of what is happening in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem with regard to forced displacement,” Odeh said.
“Last year was the highest rate of settlement expansion on record in East Jerusalem – around 4,500 units. The year 2020 also saw 170 Palestinian structures demolished, including 105 houses, resulting in the displacement of 385 people.
According to Toufakji, Israeli policies of arrests, structural demolition, land confiscation and forced displacement all conform to the Israeli government’s “demographic balance” in Jerusalem to 70-30, limiting the city’s Palestinian population. at 30% or less.
“This plan has been in place since 1973, when then Prime Minister Golda Meir gave the green light to the Gavni Committee to achieve this ratio,” he said.
“And in 1990, Ariel Sharon – who was the minister of housing construction at the time – initiated plans to build settlement blocks right in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in order to surround, fragment and disperse the settlements. Palestinian residents. “
Odeh said all of these policies are in line with Israel’s so-called “greater Jerusalem” plan, which aims to cut off the surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem from the city through the separation barrier and annexing it. the surrounding Jewish settlements.
“As a result, some 140,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites live outside the separation barrier and cannot access the city,” he said.
“The past year also saw the approval of the expansion of existing settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, such as Givat Hamatos on the lands of Beit Safafa and [Har Homa] Jabal Abu Ghneim settlement in the south near Beit Sahour, ”Odeh continued.
Several Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem are also threatened with forced displacement.
“The al-Bustan area in Silwan, south of the old city, has 119 families spread across 88 buildings threatened with demolition to make way for an Israeli archaeological park,” Odeh said.
“In Wadi Yasul, 84 houses are also threatened with demolition to make way for the expansion of an Israeli national park. And in Batan al-Hawa, 700 people are expected to be forcibly displaced because the Ateret Cohanim settler group said Jews used to live there.
What has been the international response to Sheikh Jarrah?
Last February, Mohammed el-Kurd, 22, whose family is facing displacement on Sunday, successfully put pressure on 81 British lawmakers, including Jeremy Corbyn, to sign a letter regarding the situation in Sheikh Jarrah.
In April, at least 190 organizations wrote a letter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, urging him to investigate the impending forced displacement of families in Sheikh Jarrah as part of his ongoing investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine.
In recent weeks, the hashtag in English and Arabic #SaveSheikhJarrah circulated on social media, aimed at raising awareness and generating interest at the local and official level in the face of impending displacement.
Palestinian activists called on international leaders and advocates to pressure Israel to end what they say they are Nakba“.