Sheikh Jarrah families face a 'push against the wall' offer

Sheikh Jarrah families say Israeli court offer is a 'push against the wall'
5 min read
07 October, 2021
Paying rent to Israeli settlers for 15 years or face eviction: Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have until 2 November to decide.
Israeli arrests of Sheikh Jarrah activists have increased since last May, say residents [Getty]

Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah facing eviction from their homes say they have not yet made a decision on whether to accept an offer by an Israeli court on Monday.

The deal, which expires on 2 November, would see the families treated as "protected" tenants but would have to pay rent to the Israeli "Nahalat Shimon" settler organisation, which the court would consider as the owner of the Palestinian homes. 

Tensions erupted in Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, in May after the settler group attempted to have the Palestinian families there evicted from their homes. 

Hashem Salaymeh, a 51-year-old Sheikh Jarrah resident, told The New Arab that the offer is "unfair and biased" and is wary about the deal.

"If we accept to pay rent, we would be conceding to the claim that the Israeli organisation is the owner of our homes, and that would be used against us in the court as proof against our ownership," he said.

"We categorically reject any offer of settlement that considers Israeli settlers owners of our homes."

He did say that any decision the families make will be taken "collectively and in consultation with our lawyers".

 

Israeli courts have issued 65 eviction orders against 28 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, who have been living in the neighbourhood since 1956.

The Palestinian families are refugees expelled from their original homes during the creation of Israel in 1948. They were granted properties in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood by the Jordanian government, which occupied East Jerusalem at the time, therefore ending their refugee status.

The Israeli courts have ordered the families' evictions based on the claim, made by Israeli settler organisations, that the land was owned by Jews before 1948. Under Israeli law, this entitles the court to evict Palestinians from their properties.

Hashem Salaymeh claimed that the court is looking for an easy way out of the crisis in Sheikh Jarrah, which has seen Israel face huge criticism from human rights organisations and the UN.

"It can't simply rule out all the eviction orders against us because that would be a legal precedent against all eviction orders in Jerusalem, based on the Israeli discriminatory law," he said.

"Instead, the judge is trying to delay our eviction through a property settlement, offering us more time in our homes... This is effectively pushing us against the wall, making us choose between two bitter options."

Lawyer Madhat Dibeh, one of the legal representatives of the Sheikh Jarrah families, said in a written statement that Israeli courts could evict Palestinians from the occupied territory "either by a property settlement that would end by declaring the (Nahalat Shimon) organisation as owner of the land, or at the end of the 15-year period".

Dibeh added that "although the offer would allow Palestinian families to buy more time in their homes, it also takes the international pressure off the Israeli occupation".

 

Alaa Salaymeh, Hashem's daughter, said that the Israeli authorities have become more cautious since a wave of protests erupted across Palestine in May, in support of the Sheikh Jarrah residents.

"In the past months, as attention moved away from Sheikh Jarrah's case, the Israeli police have increased its arrests against solidarity activists in the neighbourhood and local youth," she said.

Her father said that the events in Palestine and displays of international solidarity pushed Jordanian officials to hand over long-awaited property papers on the case to the family's lawyers.

The Jordanian documents, which were handed to the Palestinian Authority in the past months, prove that Amman had taken effective steps to transfer the property rights of the houses in question to the families but that the process was interrupted in 1967 by the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. 

Alaa Salaymeh claimed that the Israeli police and settlers are increasing pressure on Sheikh Jarrah residents to accept the offer.

"Israeli settlers now come in large numbers more repeatedly, from all over Jerusalem, to hold celebrations in the neighbourhoods, protected by the police," she said.

"The Israeli police more regularly harasses inhabitants and force us inside our homes and arrest activists. This is a way to intimidate us into accepting their deal."

 

Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post reported in July that Prime Minister Neftali Bennett is not intending to push for the expulsion of the Sheikh Jarrah families under his government, due to the reactions caused by the last eviction attempts in May.

Alaa said that despite the efforts by the Israeli court deals to deal with families individually, they will continue to work together as one community.

"We will continue our struggle collectively... We make sure that any decision we make is in the interest of all," she said.

We are all by ourselves in this fight, and we need to stick together."