Sheikh Jarrah families asked to choose pragmatism over principle

Protesters rally against Jewish settlement activity in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem (AFP)

Omar Karmi

The Electronic Intifada  /  October 6, 2021

Four families in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah under threat of expulsion were Monday presented with what has been billed in the Israeli media as a “compromise” proposal by Israel’s top court.

It would see three families safe from forced removal for two generations and one for one generation, designating them as “protected tenants.”

But in return they will have to pay rent to the settler organization behind the expulsion attempt – the US-based Nahalat Shimon. That would in effect recognize the group’s ownership over the area until a ruling on ownership is passed down at some indeterminate point in the future.

“What we are saying is let’s bring this down from the level of principles to a pragmatic level,” said Isaac Amit, one of three justices on Israel’s high court, ruling on the matter. “People should be able to continue living there – that’s the idea – to try and reach a practical arrangement without making declarations of one kind or another.”

Lawyers for the families have yet to respond to the proposal but writer Mohammed El-Kurd, one of the people threatened with being thrown out of the only home he has ever known, rejected any recognition of ownership by settlers.

“As we deliberate our next steps to remain rooted in occupied Jerusalem, one thing is clear: We’ll never accept that settlers from Long Island and elsewhere own our homes.”

Attempts to forcibly remove Palestinians from their homes also affect several families in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood.

There, on Wednesday, Israel proceeded with the demolition of a family’s home and issued demolition orders against several others.

The threatened expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah provoked unprecedented scrutiny in May when they were due, of the legal mechanisms by which Israel discriminates between property claims by Jewish settlers and non-Jewish indigenous Palestinians.

At the very heart of Israel’s pseudo-legal machinery is the 1950 Absentees’ Property Law which clears the way for state expropriation of the lands and properties of Palestinian refugees.

This and a law enacted in 1970 close any Israeli legal avenues for Palestinians – like the Sheikh Jarrah families – to reclaim the homes or lands they fled or were driven from in 1948.

Jewish litigants, on the other hand, are free to pursue ownership claims dating back before 1948, in the case of the Sheikh Jarrah land in question, to the late 19th century.

Such blatant discrimination in law is one of many reasons Israel has been labeled an apartheid system by a number of PalestinianIsraeli and international human rights organizations.

Israel, whose imposition of its legal system on occupied East Jerusalem has been declared null and void by the UN, has been attempting to portray its efforts to remove Palestinians from Jerusalem as merely a series of private real-estate disputes.

But, not least thanks to the efforts of activists like El-Kurd and his twin, Muna, in this case, this has so far failed.

Monday’s court proposal was in part quite explicitly about not stirring the kind of media attention the Sheikh Jarrah cases attracted before – which led to demonstrations in Jerusalem, an armed reaction from Hamas, a full on Gaza onslaught by Israel leaving hundreds dead and global demonstrations in solidarity with Sheikh Jarrah and Gaza.

Amit, the Israeli judge, said: “We’ve seen how interested the media are in this. We want a practical solution.”

Omar Karmi is an independent journalist