JERUSALEM, Israel – The Palestinian families at the center of a legal battle over a controversial neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem rejected a compromise on Tuesday that would have delayed the threat of eviction for more than a decade.
The proposal floated by Israel's Supreme Court would have allowed the four families to continue living in the contested homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood for at least 15 years in exchange for recognizing the ownership interests of a Jewish group seeking their eviction.
"We have unanimously rejected the arrangement proposed by the occupation court," Sheikh Jarrah resident Muna El Kurd, one of the Palestinians threatened with eviction, said at a press conference.
El Kurd said the rejection comes from “our belief in the justice of our cause and our right to our homes and our homeland.” She added that the compromise offer creates the “illusion of the ball in our court, fabricating the framing that we reject a ‘generous deal,’ in a situation where our dispossession would still be imminent and our homes would still be regarded as someone else’s.”
Statement from the families of Sheikh Jarrah pic.twitter.com/737MFmUwyW
— Mohammed El-Kurd (@m7mdkurd) November 2, 2021
The proposal would have made the Palestinian families “protected residents,” blocking any eviction or demolition order for at least 15 years and allowing them to continue arguing their legal case in Israeli courts. However, it would have forced them to at least temporarily affirm that their legal opponent, a Jewish nonprofit group called Nahalat Shimon, owns their homes. Such a move could weaken the families’ case moving forward.
The proposal would also require the families to pay nominal rent to Nahalat Shimon, the group seeking their eviction.
“Each family will deposit yearly rent of 2,400 shekels [$750] in the account of the counsel of the Nahalat Shimon Co. The payment will be deposited every year in advance beginning January 1, 2020 and every January 1 thereafter,” according to the plan.
Because the Palestinian families rejected the compromise, the Supreme Court must now reconsider their appeal of the original eviction order. If the high court upholds the evictions, it could pave the way for them to be carried out in the coming weeks.
There was no immediate comment from Nahalat Shimon. The group submitted their response to the Supreme Court, but their stance has not been made public. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King, a staunch supporter of their cause, said they had accepted the compromise offer.
Nahalat Shimon says their claim to the property goes back to 1876 when Jews bought a plot of land near the tomb of a Jewish high priest from ancient times. The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is located on part of the land.
Jordan seized the property during Israel’s war for independence in 1948 and drove out the Jewish residents. Later, Palestinian families resettled this land in the 1950s after becoming refugees during the war. They say Jordanian authorities leased them the homes in Sheikh Jarrah in exchange for giving up their refugee status. Jordan supports this claim.
When Israel recaptured the land from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, it transferred all previously-owned property to Israeli custody.
Nahalat Shimon cites an Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim land lost during Israel’s war for independence. No such right exists for Palestinians who also lost homes in the same conflict.
The Palestinian residents argue that their situation is unfair because they cannot reclaim the homes they lost in the war, and also stand to lose decades-old homes they gave up their refugee status for.
The Palestinians and human rights groups view the legal battle as part of a larger war over Jerusalem’s demographic future and a coordinated attempt to push Palestinian residents out of the holy city. However, Israel has characterized the matter as a private real-estate dispute and claimed that Palestinian leaders are using the legal battle to fuel violence against Israel.
The battle over Sheikh Jarrah was one of the main drivers of nightly protests that erupted in Jerusalem in April and May. After weeks of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, the Hamas terror group controlling Gaza fired rockets at Jerusalem. That rocket attack ignited the fourth war between Israel and Hamas. Many are concerned that Hamas may use the rising tensions over Sheikh Jarrah as a pretext to launch another barrage of rockets against Israel as it did in May.
Pressure on All Sides
The Palestinian families at the center of the dispute faced pressure from both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to reject the compromise.
Last week, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh told the families in a phone call to turn down the offer.
“We will not allow the occupation courts to extract by trickery what they were unable to extract in a war. You do not need to deal with their offers, as they are an illegal entity on our land,” Haniyeh said, according to his office.
The Fatah Party, which controls the Palestinian Authority, also said it had "clearly informed the families and their lawyers that we are categorically against the proposal, and we will stand by them and will not allow them to be thrown into the street."
There has also been growing tension between the residents in favor of the offer and those who reject it.
"We're under huge pressure, one of the residents facing eviction told the Israeli paper Haaretz. "We aren't sleeping and don't want to battle with everything around us. The talk is that if you've paid the settlers, then you are a traitor and that's it. You're finished. So in the end, we refused the offer."