Photo by Heather Sharona Weiss, Activestills
What’s Happening in Sheikh Jarrah?
Sheikh Jarrah is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, located north of the Old City. A public legal battle has been waged for four decades between residents of the neighborhood and private right-wing organizations that seek to evict Palestinian families from their homes for the benefit of Jewish settlers.
The current struggle, which is one of many struggles against the evictions of dozens of Palestinian families in the neighborhood and in other areas of East Jerusalem, is over a territory of 18 dunams located near the Tomb of Shimon HaTzadik. The territory was purchased by the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Yisrael Committee from 1875-1876 yet remained empty. In 1948, following the war, Jewish residents of the neighborhood were evicted from territory that was transferred to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s rule. The evicted residents received compensation from the State of Israel for the abandoned property. In 1956, Jordan and the United Nations built homes on the territory in the Shimon HaTzadik compound for 28 Palestinian refugee families who were forced to leave their homes and property that remained in territory on which the State of Israel was established.
In 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem. In 1970, the Legal and Administrative Matters Law was enacted, which transferred authority over the land to the Israeli General Custodian, who transferred the land back to the Jewish committees.
The legal proceedings between the committees and the families commenced in 1974. In 1982, an agreement was reached within the framework of the main proceedings conducted. As a part of the arrangement, the residents agreed to recognize the committees’ ownership of the compound in return for recognition of their
status as "protected tenants" under the Tenant Protection Law, which guarantees their right to live in their homes until the day they die in exchange for modest rent. The residents claim that the lawyer who represented them did not receive their approval for the agreement, and that a signed copy of the arrangement was not presented to the court.
In 2007, a private company called Nahalat Shimon Ltd. bought the land from the Jewish committees and launched a renewed legal battle to evict the families. The company seeks to establish approximately 200 new housing units exclusively for Jews. Within the framework of this long legal battle, four families have already been evicted from the territory thus far, with 13 additional families at risk of eviction.
The legal proceedings between settler organizations and Palestinian residents are over a number of different plots around the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik. The area currently at the center of attention is located in a neighborhood known as Karm al-Ja'ouni, where eight families are at risk of eviction following a number of rulings regarding their case. The hearing on the appeal submitted to the Supreme Court regarding four of the families, was adjourned until June upon the request of the Attorney General.
The public struggle led by residents of the neighborhood against the evictions has continued for over a decade, and has gained increased momentum over the past few months. This is a civil nonviolent struggle waged by Palestinian as well as Jewish activists, which occasionally makes headlines due to the violent means of crowd dispersal used by police amid weekly protests against the evictions, among other things.
Photo by Keren Manor, Activestills
Far Beyond a Real Estate Conflict – and What the Law Declares
In response to international criticism of what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah, the State claims that this is a civil real estate dispute. This claim disregards the significant historical, social, and identity-based contexts of the conflict, as well as the systemic discrimination against Palestinians that is anchored in existing laws.
The legal treatise that creates this discriminatory reality lies in two different laws. One law is the Absentees’ Property Law, which was enacted in 1950 in the state’s early days, in order to allow government institutions to seize Palestinian property following the 1948 War. Thus, the property of Palestinians who either fled or were expelled beyond the borders of the State of Israel during the 1948 war, came under Israeli control. The second law is the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which was enacted after the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Clause 5 of the law declared the de facto application of the Absentees’ Property Law to this part of the city as well. Following the establishment of the state, the location of the territories was considered to be “in an enemy state" since Jordan controlled this part of Jerusalem at the time, such that they could be included in the law.
The combination of both laws creates a situation wherein Jews may reclaim properties in East Jerusalem that they owned before 1948, even though they had already been granted
compensation for the assets lost, while Palestinians cannot reclaim properties that they owned before 1948 – whether in West Jerusalem or anywhere else in Israel.
Beyond the inherent discriminatory nature of the law itself, the application of the law is equally infuriating. The State allowed settler organizations to buy land in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah that had once been Jewish-owned land and property prior to 1948. Thus, these settler organizations became owners under the discriminatory legal arrangement. In other words, this does not even involve the original landowners nor the heirs of the landowners, but rather constitutes a deliberate takeover of land with the support of state institutions and legal frameworks in order to establish a Jewish presence in Palestinian neighborhoods by expelling the residents and erasing the identities of the neighborhoods.
When the law itself is inequitable, and solely privileges and grants rights to one group due to its national affiliation, then the heart of the issue is discrimination. As such, the "real estate" aspect of this conflict is merely one aspect of a much larger picture in which various state authoritie play an active role in disinheriting Palestinians of their property in order to “Judaize” the ring of Palestinian neighborhoods around the Old City.
Photo by Maria Zreik, Activestills
Sheikh Jarrah Isn’t Alone
The struggle over territory and property in the Shimon HaTzadik compound is not the only struggle being waged by Palestinian residents against settler organizations’ attempts to take over their lands and properties, and to evict the Palestinian residents. Settlements are located in other Palestinian neighborhoods throughout East Jerusalem, including the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, Silwan, At-Tur (Mount of Olives), Ras al-Amud, and Jabal al-Mukaber.
Settler organizations takeover Palestinian homes and properties through various means. Sometimes the course of action is legal and relies on the Legal and Administrative Matters Law or the Absentees’ Property Law. Other times, the
organizations succeed in purchasing land and property from their Palestinian owners.
This takeover is often carried out under the auspices of the state and with court approval, serving settler organizations’ aspirations to create contiguous Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem while pushing Palestinian residents out of their homes and public space. Moreover, the focus on Israeli law alone disregards the existing gaps in power relations between private organizations with political resources and connections, and local residents whose mother tongue is not Hebrew, and who suffer from poverty and systemic discrimination by the authorities in all aspects of life.
Photo by Activestills
The Consequences of Establishing Settlements at the Heart of Palestinian Neighborhoods
The establishment of settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and evicting entire families from their homes has dramatic implications for the fabric of life in the neighborhoods – beyond the direct harm caused to the families themselves.
The thousands of settlers living in these neighborhoods live in enclosures surrounded by fences and are guarded by armed security guards funded by the Ministry of Housing. The exhibitionist entry of the "new neighbors" is often accompanied by friction between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents. Such friction often ends in violent clashes, arrests, and legal proceedings – most of them against the Palestinians. Among other things, Palestinians living near the compounds suffer from constant physical and verbal harassment by both settlers and their security guards, vandalism of property, intrusion of private space, and closures of streets and public compounds.
Settlers also complain of acts of violence by Palestinians, including stone throwing, vandalism of property, vilification, and more. However, Palestinian residents’ testimonies indicate that the settlers’ complaints receive immediate police response, while their own complaints remain unanswered. This reality of law enforcement agencies’ selective enforcement, combined with long-standing discrimination in all aspects of East Jerusalem residents’ lives, contributes to increased distrust of Israeli authorities.
Sheikh Jarrah is just one example of what’s happening in East Jerusalem and settlement expansion in Jerusalem is just one example of the settlers' ongoing efforts to expand Jewish control over the Occupied Territories, while the authorities turn a blind eye, or often even provide support and funding.