Tuesday, September 28, 2010

High Court ruling opens possibility of many more evictions of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah

The Al-Ghawi family sitting on plastic chairs opposite their home that has been taken by Jewish settlers. Soon their fate will be shared by more families in Sheikh Jarrah.

A ruling by Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday has opened the door for settler groups to move into dozens more homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Haaretz reports. The justices Yoram Danziger, Esther Hayut and Miriam Naor unanimously rejected an appeal by Palestinians claiming to own a large plot in the western portion of the neighborhood. The court ruled that the custodian general, and other owners, including settler representatives, succeeded in proving they owned the property.
The juridical situation of land ownership in Jerusalem is complicated due to the fact that Israel  - illegally - annexed the Eastern part of the city after it had been conquered in 1967 and applied Israeli law to it. This made it possible for Jews to claim land that they had owned before 1948 (a blatant injustice as Palestinians hav never been in a situation to claim property they owned before in the Western part of the city, let alone in other parts of Israel).
The situation in Sheikh Jarrah is since long tense because of the actions of Jewish settler groups which are in part financied by American millionaires like the casino magnate Irving Moskovitz. The groups call the neigbourhood 'Shimon haTzaddik'  (Simon the Just) after a tomb of a famous rabbi which is located in the area. Settler movements like Ateret Cohanim are constructing 'Jewish only' appartment buildings like on the spot of the formerly famous Shepherd hotel in the area, but also they are taking over homes from Palestinian owners on the ground that before 1948 the places were Jewish owned.
A number of Palestinian families, most of the refugees from the 1948 war, which had been allocated houses by the UN organisation UNRWA in te fifties, last year lost their cases in court. The court recognized Jewish ownership of the places based on rights from before 1948, rights which had been bought by the settler organisations from the previous owners, a society of  the sephardi community of the city. Tensions have risen  since then, as the court  allowed Jewish groups to reclaim homes, thereby allowing them to evict Palestinian families in favor of Jewish ones. Families like the Al Turk and Al-Ghawi since then live in the street in tents, opposite the houses they had been living in for more than fifty years. 
According to the artcile in today's Haartez a group of Palestinians initiated a court case in 1997, arguing that the property on which Jews settled in the 19th century had not been sold to them but leased and that the ownership remained Palestinian. In 2006 the Jerusalem District Court rejected the suit, after which they appealed to the Supreme Court.
Sunday the Supreme Court rejected their appeal and ruled that Jews are the owners of the homes. The ruling, written by judge Danziger, states that the Palestinians failed to prove the terms of the lease between the original owners and the Jews who lived in the neighborhood. Evidence that payments for the lease were made were rejected by the court as constituting evidence that the Jews did not buy the property, according to the paper.

The ruling means that the settlers, whose ownership has been recognized by the Supreme Court, will now be able to initiate proceedings for the eviction of dozens of Palestinian families living on the property. So soon there will be many more families camping in the streets, like the Al-Turk and Ghawi families. Also the settlers  will be able to move ahead with plans to build in the area.
Aryeh King, one of the leaders of the settlement movement in East Jerusalem, said yesterday that in two days three Palestinian families whose leases are ending are expected to be evicted from their homes. The plan is for Jewish families to move in. King also said that he is advancing a project to build dozens of housing units for Jews in the neighborhood.

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