Upon receiving reports that Israel is evicting Palestinian residents from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, we did some research on the matter and it turns out that, of course, that is not the whole story.
To put the story in simple terms: Palestinian residents who have not paid their rent are being evicted. It has been described as a “real estate dispute between private parties.” It is worth noting that over 300,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. This eviction case is about 8 residents.
We look at the extensive information provided by court documents and NGO Monitor.
So what happened? What is the legal case?
NGO Monitor shows that according to the Supreme Court, the land in question was purchased from its Arab owners in 1875 by Chief Rabbi Avraham Ashkenazi and Chief Rabbi Meir Orbach. They owned it until the War of Independence, 1948, two years after two Jewish organizations, ‘Va’ad Eidat HaSfaradim‘ and ‘Va’ad HaKlali L’Knesset Yisrael‘, had registered the land with British Mandatory government (in 1946).
During the 1948 War of Independence Jews were ethnically cleansed from the area. Under Jordanian rule during the 1950s, Arabs moved into the property in question.
During the Six Day War, 1967, Israel recaptured the area of East Jerusalem after being simultaneously attacked by Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Syria along with Egypt.
In 1973 the properties were re-registered with Israeli authorities under the original two organizations mentioned above (Va’ad Eidat HaSfaradim and Va’ad HaKlali L’Knesset Yisrael). These organizations sold the properties to the ‘Nahalat Shimon’ organization in 2003.
So what’s with the residents being evicted?
According to a 1989 High Court decision, residents living on the land owned by these organizations were required to pay rent. (This is the case for any tenant living on someone else’s property.) According to NGO Monitor, the residents’ failure to pay rent, along with instances of illegal building and illegally renting properties to others, resulted in the current legal proceedings against them, culminating in the District Court decision.
It is important to note that in 1982, a number of residents agreed in the Magistrate Court that the two Israeli non-profit organizations were the legal land owners.
Why current residents’ claims of ownership failed
According to NGO Monitor:
“The District Court case addressed the ownership claims of the eight appellants. The court found that:
- Three of the appellants are the children and grandchildren of residents who acknowledged the ownership of the Israeli organizations in court proceedings in 1982.
- Four of the appellants claim to have purchased the properties in 1991— 19 years after the properties were registered under the Israeli groups — from a man named “Ismail.” The court notes that the appellants never identified “Ismail,” nor did they prove that they had indeed purchased the properties from this person.
- One appellant represents the estate of a deceased former resident. In 2009, the Court determined that she had not paid rent as required, had built illegally on the property, and therefore could be evicted.
Previous court decisions regarding this property’s ownership
In October 2020, the Magistrate Court rejected the residents’ claim that the property had been promised to them by the Jordanian authorities, during the years in which Jordan controlled the area. According to that decision, “all of the witnesses were born after 1967 or were very young at the time and testified that they heard about the [Jordanian] promise from an older relative.”
The court added that “the only document presented” to prove this alleged Jordanian guarantee “is a copy of a standard document from the Jordanian equivalent of the Housing Ministry, but this form is un-signed and does not bestow ownership on any of the defendants.”
Similarly, earlier Supreme Court decisions rejected ownership claims of Sheikh Jarrah residents based on what the court found to be an apparently altered Turkish deed and an “inauthentic” contract.
Moreover, in 2020, the Magistrate Court noted, “throughout all of the deliberations, the defendants claimed through their counsel that they were not tenants but rather held the property rights… Apparently, as they realized that they had not convinced the Court that they were the owners of the property, the defendants claimed for the first time that they are tenants who should not be removed from their homes.”NGO Monitor
Similar evictions you’ve never heard of
In 2017 Jewish Israelis were evicted from Amona, a small outpost on a hill in the West Bank. In 2014, the Israeli High Court of Justice had ruled that it was illegally constructed on privately owned Palestinian land in 1996.
This appears to be something which the international community never heard about, seemingly because Jewish people were being removed from Palestinian privately-owned land.
In both cases the evictions are about the removal of squatters. In Amona, people were squatting on private land. In Sheikh Jarrah, people are living in a property without paying rent and are therefore squatting. This is neither a complicated issue, nor a race or ethnicity issue.
The Supreme Court has now postponed the upcoming hearing which could have determined whether the four Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah would be evicted, as the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s office requested two weeks to consider becoming a party to the case. In other words: the planned evictions which were approved by lower courts, will not go forward in the meantime.
Most concerning have been the uproar and statements of indignation against Israel and the inevitable subsequent violence, over what is an ordinary court case. This case is seemingly being misused as a justification for worldwide condemnation and violent uprisings.