Residents of Sheikh Jarrah: ‘Evacuation postponed for decades, surprised by Israeli Court’s proposal’

August 4, 2021 by Baruch Yedid - TPS
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The Arab residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem expressed great satisfaction following the compromise proposal offered by the High Court of Justice regarding their illegal dwellings in Israeli-owned property.

Members of Israel’s left-wing community protesting at Shimon HaTzaddik neighbourhood against the growing Jewish presence near the Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Jerusalem, Apr 16, 2021.

The residents in the neighbourhood breathed a sigh of relief and expressed pleasure with the compromise proposal, which they understand is intended to prevent the eviction of families in the coming decades, even though the families oppose the condition set by Nahalat Shimon association, which owns the land on which they live, that they recognize the Jewish ownership of their property in exchange for recognizing them as first-generation tenants.

The court proposed that the residents pay reduced rent and be entitled to the status of a protected tenant as if they were “first generation,” which gives them protection until the third generation, according to Israeli law. The proposal says that the Arabs will be defined as “protected tenants” and it will not be possible to evict them for decades, but in return, they will be required to pay a low rent to the “Nahalat Shimon” association.

The Israeli association’s representative, Adv. Ilan Shemer, opposed the compromise and demanded that the Arabs recognize Jewish ownership of the properties, which provoked opposition among neighbourhood residents who refuse to recognize Jewish ownership.

A source in Sheikh Jarrah, who has been following the legal battle for many years, told TPS Tuesday that “this is a very significant surprise and a gift from heaven …The Israeli court’s proposal is a step in the right direction and for us, it is really good news… Some of the family owners do not believe that the Israeli court has decided to go so far towards them,” he said.

However, he added that alongside the Palestinian Authority’s pressure in recent years not to recognize Jewish ownership of the land, residents now fear that recognizing Jewish ownership will allow Nahalat Shimon to build in open lots and take advantage of the recognition of owning the land for additional purposes.

Regarding the Jordanian document that was submitted to the families several days ago, and which the residents claim is likely to prove Arab ownership of the land, one of the eastern Jerusalem public leaders said that “already in 1979, following several hearings in Jerusalem Magistrates’ Courts, the judges clarified that all the agreements between the Jordanians and the families are illegal, which also puts the current document in question.”

According to some reports, Jordanian documents recently submitted to the Arab side and transferred to the High Court prove that the Jordanian authorities took practical steps to register the lands in the name of the local Arab residents, but the process was interrupted by the Six-Day War.

An official claims that “previous documents submitted by Jordan speak of intentions, while these documents refer to practical measures of land ownership and among other things indicate that in March 1967, three months before the war broke out, residents of the neighbourhood were notified to wait for appraisers to settle their ownership.”

The neighbourhood is expected to make a decision soon on if they intend to prepare a list of property owners who will be considered “protected tenants” and which will be submitted to the court.

Opinions in the neighbourhood on this matter are divided, but it is clear that failure to accept a compromise could cost the residents and bring to their evacuation from the houses.

Sheikh Jarrah residents are satisfied with the progress of their struggle so far and especially with the fact that dozens of consuls and foreign diplomatic staff were present in the courtroom on Monday. The US State Department said that “families who have lived in their homes for generations must not be deported,” and the UN reiterated its refusal to evacuate Arabs from their homes.

The land in question was purchased by the Sephardic Community Committee in Jerusalem and the Knesset of Israel Committee in 1875, before the establishment of the state of Israel.

The Arab families settled in the neighbourhood after the War of Independence in 1948, when Israel lost control over this part of Jerusalem, and their residence was approved by the Jordanian government, which controlled the area until 1967, at the initiative of the UNRWA.

In 1956, the Jordanian government and UNRWA settled 28 families and they were granted tenant status for a period of 33 years, while ownership of the place remained in the hands of the Jordanian custodian. The Israeli owners are now seeking to regain control of their properties.

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