The struggle in Sheikh Jarrah is a political one in which an Israeli settlement organizations, with the support of the Israeli authorities, are trying to expel the Palestinian residents and replace them with Jewish settlers. However, the framework that is being used most frequently to further this goal is the Israeli legal system. As such, it is important to explain what is going on in this context, especially since the evictions have been approved by the various courts in Israel, including the Israeli Supreme Court, thus giving the Jewish settlement an appearance of legality.
I. A Brief Legal History of Karem al-Ja’ouni (The “Shimon Hatzadik”) neighbourhood
Although there are several settlement actions in Sheikh Jarrah, the focal point of the struggle is in the area called Karem al-Ja’ouni and the attempt to evict the 27 Palestinian families living there in order to establish the “Shimon Hatzadik” settlement with 200 housing units for the settlers.
- In 1956 the Palestinian families were settled in Karem al-Ja’ouni by UNRWA and the Jordanian Government, on the condition that they renounce their refugee status. Under the terms of the agreement they rented the houses built by the Jordanian government for a nominal fee. The agreement stated that after three years the families would receive the legal title to the property; however the Jordanian government never registered the families as the owners of the property.
- In 1967 East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel and the Israeli government enacted an ordinance which placed the property in Karem al-Ja’ouni under the control of the Israeli Custodian for Absentees’ Property.
- In 1970 The Israeli Knesset enacted the Law and Administrative Matters Law, which enabled Jews to make claims on property that they owned in East Jerusalem.
- In 1972 the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Israel Committee (hereinafter: the Committees) claimed ownership rights on the basis of a historical and religious affiliation to the land. The Committees presented an 1886 koshan, a form of legal title commonly used to convey ownership during the Ottoman era, as the basis of their claim. Despite questions regarding the validity and accuracy of the documents, which have been raised in the various court hearings, the Israeli Land Registry Authority (ILA) approved the claim for preliminary (but not final) registration.
- In 1976 the Committees, on the basis of the registration, initiated legal proceedings to evict four of the families. Although the court did not nullify the registration, it held that, according to the tripartite agreement between Jordan, UNRWA and the Palestinian families, the four families had been lawfully present based on ‘prior and legitimate’ agreements with the Jordanians. As such the court ruled that the registration did not supersede that agreement.
- In 1982 the Committees filed suits for eviction against twenty-three of the families. During the course of the legal struggle an out-of-court settlement was made between the Committees and Adv. Yitzhak Toussia-Cohen, who represented 17 of the families. This settlement did not contest the Committees’ claim to the property, but instead granted the families the status of protected tenants. This agreement was confirmed by the court’s decision in 1989.
This ruling marks a critical turning point in the process, recognizing the Committees’ rights to the property. Despite the fact that the families state that they did not give their consent to the agreement and were not aware of its ramifications, the ruling would become the basis for all the subsequent legal proceedings in Karem Al-Ja’ouni, and certainly in the actions against the 17 families. This was especially problematic as the Committees’ documentation was not examined by the court.
- In 1993 the Committees began a series of legal suits to evict the Palestinian residents, on the grounds that they were not paid rent and that renovations were made without their authorization. The families refused to pay rent as this would be understood as accepting the Committee’s rights to the property.
- In 1997, Suleiman Hijazi, A Palestinian real estate trader whose family also lived in Karem al-Ja’ouni, filed an appeal on the basis of Ottoman and Jordanian land deeds which documented his claim to the property. In 2002 the court rejected the validity of his documents on the basis of the Toussia-Cohen agreement. In 2006 the Supreme Court upheld this decision.
- In 1999 the court ruled to evict the Mohammed Al-Kurd, Hanoun and Al-Ghawi families from their homes. In addition, the court ruled to seal the extension of the family home and to evict Nabil Al-Kurd and his family from it. The extension which they built had been declared illegal as the Municipality of Jerusalem did not approve their permit request.
10. In April 2000 anonymous settlers establish a private real estate corporation, Nachlat Shimon Ltd., in order to create a settlement by the name of Shimon Hatzadik. The Committees subsequently empower Nachlat Shimon to act in their name.
11. Between 2001 and 2002 the Al-Ghawi and Hanoun families were evicted from their homes for the first time, on the basis of rent delinquency and unauthorized renovations according to the 1982 agreement. They returned to their homes in 2006 without a court ruling.
12. In August 2008, Nachlat Shimon filed Town Plan Scheme (TPS) 12705 in the Jerusalem Local Planning Commission. The plan calls to build a 200 unit housing project on the land of Karem Al-Ja’ouni, and would lead to the eviction of all 500 Palestinian residents.
13. Between October 2008 and April 2009, the Committees transferred all of their property rights in Kerem Al-Ja’ouni to Nachlat Shimon.
14. In November 2008, Mohammed and Fawzyeh Al-Kurd were evicted from their house which was then taken over by settlers. Shortly after the eviction Mohammed died of a heart attack. The family remains homeless to this day.
15. In June 2009 legal proceedings were initiated against the Sabbagh family, who were not a party to the Toussia-Cohen agreement. As a result of this, the court has ordered both sides to produce documents to prove their claim to the property, which requires a reconsideration of the validity of the Committees’ koshan, as well as a re-examination of the Hijazi documents. To date the lawyers representing Nachlat Shimon have requested a delay three times, most recently in May 2010.
16. In August 2009 the Hanoun and Ghawi families were once again evicted and are to this day homeless. During this period Maher Hanoun convicted for contempt of court (for not paying rent or vacating the property) and jailed for three months. Jewish settlers were moved into the house, which they now occupy.
17. In December 2009 settlers occupied the extension of the Nabil Al-Kurd house. As the extension had been declared illegal, the lawyer representing the Al-Kurd family asked the court to rule to demolish it. However instead of destroying the extension it was given Nachlat Shimon for the settlers use.
18. In April 2010 evacuation proceedings are initiated against the Dajani and Dahoudi families.
II. The Larger Legal context
If one looks at the particular legal claims in Sheik Jarrah (and East Jerusalem as a whole), it is possible to come to the conclusion that they comprise a legitimate legal action. As such it begs the question: Why are we carrying on the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah?
Naturally, we are struggling against the moral and political consequences of the expulsion of the Palestinian residents and the creation of a Jewish settlement in its place.
But it is equally important that the use of the Israeli law in this situation is very problematic as it is both discriminatory and in violation of international law as seen by the entire international community.
Why is the existing Israeli law based on a legal double standard?
The Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970 enabled Jews to make claims on property that belonged to Jews before 1948. This property had been confiscated in 1949 by the Jordanian Government, just as the Israeli Government confiscated the property of Palestinian refugees, such as those now living in Sheikh Jarrah, via the Israeli “Absentees’ Properties Law”.
The 1970 law makes it possible for the settlers to claim that they had prior rights to the land, and thus enable the eviction of the Palestinian residents. However, a legal double standard has been created in that the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem can not reclaim their property in West Jerusalem and the rest of Israel.
Why is the application of Israeli Law in East Jerusalem a grave violation of International Law?
In 1967, after the conquest of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the Israeli government enacted an ordinance which extended Israel’s laws, jurisdiction and administration into East Jerusalem. In 1980, the Israeli Knesset further consolidated this status when it formally annexed East Jerusalem.
However, these acts are illegal under international law. According to the Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute an occupying power has only temporary administrative powers, and can not annex occupied territories. Both the expulsion of the occupied population and the settlement of those territories by nationals of the occupying power are considered grave violations of the Geneva Convention and hence war crimes.
Furthermore, all the institutions of the United Nations, including the Security Council, have several times passed resolutions declaring that the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal. Hence, all of the decisions by the Israeli courts are essentially invalid.