One hundred and thirty Israeli families threatened with eviction from a Palestinian-built home in Jerusalem have rejected a proposal by Israel’s high court that their relocation should take place just 10 metres away in a state-owned building, blaming the occupation for the crisis and the displacement of hundreds of Palestinian families over the past 50 years.
Nir Vardi, an Israeli legal expert who works for the 200 families facing eviction from Sheikh Jarrah’s Eastern Boulevard, says his concerns have been validated by the Israeli interior ministry’s reluctance to take action. “Nothing’s happened since 2009,” he said, calling the building owners’ offer “a long straw in a tough situation”.
Many in the community are of the same opinion, sharing the Israeli-Palestinian view that the high court should have reached a different conclusion.
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The offer includes several conditions, one of which stipulates that the state should pay the legal fees of the people who have already signed up to be forced from their homes. “The only way they’re accepting the offer is if they become completely dependent on the state,” Vardi said. “As soon as they drop the conditions, they’re not accepting the deal, but it hasn’t happened yet, and we don’t know where they’re going to leave us.”
Palestinians in the neighbourhood have lived there for decades, but have had their homes bulldozed as they have blocked an Israeli-mandated road, largely due to Jewish settlers who are believed to move in once their Jewish-only neighbourhood is complete.
The residents’ offer would make that impossible. “I wouldn’t be able to leave if they completely destroyed our house,” Suha from the Sheikh Jarrah community said. “Theoretically, a decision is bad, but actually it is not so bad.”
Over the past year, eight families have formally applied to be rehoused by the Palestinian-built settlement of Kerkeh, which is adjacent to the Sheikh Jarrah properties, which were seized as a result of a law passed by parliament in 1995.
The law, which superseded another Palestinian-built housing project, paved the way for property confiscation and demolition, mainly in the heavily Arab-populated eastern sector of Jerusalem.
One resident, Jumana, who refused to give her last name, said: “There will not be a war, there will be something else. Someone said to me that until we’re able to ask for help from the Palestinian administration, maybe we’ll have to think about putting up with it and adapting.”
The residents have launched a campaign to raise support, but there are concerns that the high court has so far rejected their application because the group does not have a sufficient number of members.
“The official position is that this is the first time all of these families came together,” Vardi said. “We’ve been working at this for years and years, and it was clearly considered hard to apply so much time and money to such a small group of people.”
Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah will try to reclaim their neighborhood through international court action, rather than appealing to the Israeli parliament, he said. But first the Israeli supreme court needs to establish that the neighbourhoods are co-existing unlawfully, he added.
“Until they find that there is clear unlawful damage to these areas and demolitions and forced displacement of Palestinians that aren’t occupied, everything will continue,” he said. “And when the Israeli supreme court opens that door, it’s very clear, the eviction is going to happen because it’s unfair and it’s going to disrupt the local situation. It’s an onerous and unreasonable burden on all the residents of this area.”