Sheikh Jarrah families ‘determined’ despite lingering uncertainty

Families say they will continue to stand their ground as the Israeli court is expected to decide the ownership of their homes.

In April and May, the story of Sheikh Jarrah caught international attention following protests against Israeli attempts to forcibly displace residents [File: Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo]

Sheikh Jarrah, Occupied East Jerusalem – Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood continue to live with uncertainty as the Israeli Supreme Court is expected to decide on the status of land where they have lived for generations.

On November 2, four Palestinian families facing forced displacement unanimously rejected the court’s proposal, which required them to accept settler ownership of the land in the occupied East Jerusalem upon which their homes sit.

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Jerusalem-based lawyer Khaled Zabarqa told Al Jazeera that the Supreme Court will rely on one of four options in its decision which is expected within days: setting a new hearing for the lawyers’ arguments from both parties, proposing an amended settlement, or requesting a summary of both parties’ previous arguments.

The final option, he said, would be for the court to issue a decision with the available material and the appeals submitted by the families.

Zabarqa said the court, which is the highest judicial authority in Israel, was “placed in a real bind” following the residents’ rejection of its recent offer. The court, he explained, was “hoping the two sides would accept the settlement proposal in order to come out with minimal losses”.

The court proposed a deal last month that would have seen four Palestinian families remain in their homes for 15 years as “protected tenants” while paying rent to settlers who have claimed the land.

Confrontations broke out between Palestinian youths and Israeli occupation forces after settlers buoyed by the court’s decision arrived outside Palestinian homes and told them the land was not theirs, and that it belonged to the Jewish people.

In April and May, the story of Sheikh Jarrah caught international attention following protests against Israeli attempts to forcibly displace residents.

‘Palestinians will rise up’

Mahmoud el-Kurd, the younger brother of twins Mona and Muhammad el-Kurd, the activists behind a social media campaign against the forced expulsion of Palestinians, said the entire neighbourhood is living under enormous pressure.

“The Israeli authorities are quiet at the moment with the renewed international attention but when things blow over they will resume their evictions,” Mahmoud el-Kurd told Al Jazeera.

He said despite their uncertain future, tensions and fear, Sheikh Jarrah’s residents are full of resolve and determination that they will not leave their homes.

“The Palestinian street will stand with us again as they did earlier this year,” el-Kurd told Al Jazeera. “My family are determined in their stand.”

Across the road from the el-Kurd family, the Attia family agreed.

“Palestinians will rise up if the Israelis try to go ahead with the eviction,” Nuha Attia, whose 25-year-old son has been imprisoned by Israeli forces for weeks accusing him of being in contact with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, told Al Jazeera.

‘Justice of our case’

The Sheikh Jarrah families are internal refugees, originally from Palestinian cities and towns that were ethnically cleansed during the first Palestinian-Israeli war in 1948. Palestinians call it “the Nakba” or “the catastrophe”, which saw the population of Palestinians reduced from about 700,000 to 165,000. The Israelis see it as their war of independence.

They say the Jordanian government, which took over East Jerusalem in 1948, granted them the land in the 1950s on which their homes were later built in exchange for their refugee status. They have been living there ever since.

“This refusal comes from our faith in the justice of our case and our rights to our homes and homeland,” said Mona el-Kurd, speaking on behalf of other families also facing eviction, during a news conference in the neighbourhood on November 2.

Israel uses laws that allow Israelis to claim land and property they lived on before 1948 while the same right does not apply to Palestinians, who suffered forced expulsion from their homes to establish the Jewish-majority state of Israel. They also question the authenticity of the documents the settlers say prove their ownership of the Sheikh Jarrah land.

At least 970 Palestinians are at risk of forced expulsion in East Jerusalem due to cases brought before Israeli courts, primarily by Jewish settler groups, with support from the Israeli government, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Demographic change

In July, Yudith Oppenheimer, executive director of Israeli rights group Ir Amim, addressed the UN Security Council highlighting the displacement of Palestinian families in the city. She said that since Israel’s 1967 occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem in violation of international law, authorities “have employed a system of discriminatory policies to weaken the Palestinian hold on the city”.

Oppenheimer noted such policies include, among others, land theft, illegal settlement construction, residency revocations, as well as “insufficient service provision, and severe restrictions on planning and building in [occupied] East Jerusalem”.

Critics argue that the settlers’ plans fit in with efforts by the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality to Judaise East Jerusalem demographically at the expense of Palestinians.

The case of Sheikh Jarrah, according to a UN special rapporteur report, “has become emblematic of the threats of forced displacement facing many Palestinian families in East Jerusalem with the aim of establishing a Jewish majority in the city and creating irreversible demographic facts on the ground”.

Nufuz Hammad, 72, along with her family, including children and grandchildren, are facing the threat of displacement from their homes despite living in the neighbourhood since 1956.

“If the settlers had their way they would load us up into trucks and deposit us on the shoreline,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It’s extremely stressful living here now because we never know when the police will come again and when we will lose our homes,” she said. “Young children are traumatised by the situation and hide and cower whenever there are confrontations.”

Hammad said despite the difficulty of living in the neighbourhood, the residents are united on the matter. “We have each other’s backs and we support each other through thick and thin,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera