Thursday, January 28, 2021

Eviction of East Jerusalem family reignites the struggle for Sheikh Jarrah

By The Palestine Monitor - September 12, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Eviction] [Sheikh Jarrah] [Settlement Expansion]

Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, hadn't seen forced evictions since 2009. The Shamasneh family had been living with the threat hanging over their heads since they lost a court case in 2013 and were subesquently ordered by the High Court to leave their home of more than 50 years within 18 months.
Despite an ongoing appeal to stop the bailiffs, that ruling was eventually enforced last Tuesday, when Israeli police came knocking at the Shamasneh's door for the fifth and last time in less than two weeks, said Muhammad Shamasneh. Israeli police escorted his 84-year-old sick father out of the house in a wheelchair, while the family's furniture was driven away in a van. They were told they'd have to pay a 160,000-shekel fine in order to get it back.

Israeli settlers immediately moved in, while a group of demonstrators gathered outside the house to challenge the eviction, which left Muhammad, his parents, wife and children with nowhere to go. The family, including Muhammad's parents, Faheema and Ayuub, joined protesters in a sit-in outside the house.

Six other families living in the same area had received eviction notices just a few days before.

“Our problems started in 2009,” Muhammad Shamasneh told Palestine Monitor. “When we were taken to court by Israelis who claimed they owned the property because a Jewish family was living here before 1948. We lost the case in court,” he recounts.

The lawsuit was based on a 1970 Israeli law that allows Jewish property owners to reclaim the homes they lost in East Jerusalem when it passed onto Jordanian hands after the 1948 war. No such law exists for Palestinians who lost their homes in the same war, whether they were expelled from West Jerusalem or elsewhere across Mandate Palestine. When Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, the house was transferred from the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property to the Israeli General Custodian, to whom the family paid rent as tenants. The General Custodian issued an eviction order in 2009, based on property claims.

These were facilitated by the Israel Land Fund, a settler organisation that acquires and sells properties in East Jerusalem with the self-declared mission to “continue the original efforts by the Jewish Forefathers,” including “acquiring all the land of Israel for the Jewish people,” according to their website. The organisation also provides legal advice and security services to families willing to move into contentious areas.

“Aryeh King bought the land from the inheritance association,” explained Muhammad Shamasneh, whose parents are 1948 refugees from the hills around Jerusalem.

Aryeh King, who heads the Israel Land Fund, is also a member of the Jerusalem municipal council. In a recent interview with Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post, King declared he aims for “some 400, maybe 500 Jewish families” to move into the neighborhood within the next decade.

According to Peace Now, an anti-settlement Israeli NGO, the Jerusalem regional planning committee discussed four plans for Sheikh Jarrah last July, two of which would require the demolition of Palestinian homes.

In his interview, King explained that a second phase of development is planned in two additional compounds, of 300 and 200 housing units respectively.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 800 Palestinians are at risk of eviction in East Jerusalem as a result of court cases against them, pursued mostly by settler organizations.

“Forcible transfer forms part of Israel’s larger plans to create a Greater Jerusalem and forcibly Judaize the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem,” said Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq in a statement.

Observers have said that plans to build settlements in Sheikh Jarrah would also change the map of East Jerusalem by linking it to the west and furthering the prospect of any future compromise over the city, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. Israel, on the other hand, unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, declaring it its “undivided capital”, a move the international community never recognised. 

Local EU missions condemned the eviction. “The settlement policy is illegal under international law and undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace,” said a statement they released after the eviction.

Protesters took to the streets last Friday to show their opposition and solidarity with the Shamasneh family.

“We had the first tent in East Jerusalem here in our neighborhood,” explained Mohammed, a veteran activist, to a small group of protesters and international observers, recalling the large protests that took place against the same policies mored than a decade ago. “We met thousands of foreigners, Palestinians and Israelis. Our story spread, and Clinton asked Netanyahu what is going on in Sheikh Jarrah.” He hopes the same will happen this time around. 


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