Photo Credit: TPS
The Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood in Jerusalem.

The court granted a five-day extension on Sunday for the settlement of disputes between the illegal Arab residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the Jewish owners.

Residents and public figures in eastern Jerusalem told TPS that the chances of a settlement are nil, as the legal dispute has become nationalist. They feel they are caught between a hammer and an anvil and are about to lose their homes due to conducting a national struggle under the guise of a legal battle.

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The pessimism among the Arabs in the neighborhood is significant and the dilemma has reached a climax: on the one hand, they desire compensation arrangements, and on the other, heavy fear of the reaction of the Arab street if the Arab families agree to a settlement with “the settlers.”

“We have become prisoners inside our homes,” says a resident of the neighborhood. “Where will we go? The court is against us, the Jews have proved ownership of the land and our lawyers represent themselves and the Palestinian Authority.”

Members of the Arab families living in the area told TPS that the teams of lawyers who have acted on their behalf in recent years are responsible for the current situation, in which the residents are expected to be evacuated from their homes after refusing settlements offered by the court.

The Jerusalem District Court recently rejected several appeals and ruled that the eight Arab families who have lived there illegally for decades should be evacuated. The court initially offered them to pay rent to the Sephardic Community Committee, which owns the land on which the Jordanians built the homes, but they refused to do so and were therefore ordered to be evicted.

The residents claim that the lawyers dragged out the affair for a long time and this entailed heavy expenses in fees and charges, but even worse, “compensation arrangements or alternative housing offered in the past are no longer on the agenda after they were rejected by our lawyers, without asking us and without our knowledge.”

“Until 1991, we were granted protected tenant status,” says a resident of the neighborhood who wishes to remain anonymous. “However, lawyers appointed with the intervention of the Orient House and the Palestinian Authority pressured us not to pay rent because we would have recognized Jewish ownership. Since then, anyone who raised the need to return to the protected tenant option has been threatened by PA representatives,” they said.

Residents who sought to pay the rent in 1993 were warned that they were likely to be harmed if they acted against the lawyers’ recommendations. Even now, residents are warned not to engage in the matter even in the WhatsApp groups.

Written and other testimonies that came to the attention of TPS indicate that the Palestinian Authority blatantly intervened in the matter and the case was managed by the Orient House until it was closed by Israeli authorities. For example, it turns out that in 2010 one of the lawyers representing the residents fell ill and his colleague was appointed in his place, but he was forced to resign under pressure from the Palestinian Authority to make room for a lawyer on its behalf and which was acceptable to the PA.

“The lawyer was instructed not to accept any settlement but to fight against the proof of ownership of the Jews,” says an Arab source in eastern Jerusalem, “even though he was warned by both us and other sources in Ramallah that he could not refute the proof of ownership presented by the Jews.”

The land in question was purchased by the Sephardic Community Committee in Jerusalem and the Knesset of Israel Committee before the establishment of the state of Israel.

The Arab families settled in the neighborhood after the War of Independence in 1948, when Israel lost control over this part of Jerusalem, and their residence was approved by the Jordanian government, which controlled the area until 1967, at the initiative of the UNRWA.

In 1956, the Jordanian government and UNRWA settled 28 families and they were granted tenant status for a period of 33 years, while ownership of the place remained in the hands of the Jordanian custodian. The Israeli owners are now seeking to regain control of their properties.

“We now have to choose between a death sentence for Arab landowners who sell land to Jews or living on the street,” the residents said, complaining that a legal issue has become a nationalist issue since the Palestinian Authority intervened and appointed a team of lawyers whose job was to undermine the Jews’ credentials, which were also found to be reliable in the opinion of Ramallah and the Orient House.

Residents and sources in eastern Jerusalem reiterated that public figures have warned the lawyers that they will not be able to prove Arab ownership of the land, but that they acted under the direction of the Palestinian Authority and led to the disaster.

“Now we are forced to pay a fee of NIS 70,000 from each family and the settlement or sheltered housing proposals offered to us by the settlers are no longer on the agenda,” they complained.

Arab residents in Sheikh Jarrah suspect that their lawyers did not necessarily represent their interests. “The lawyers preferred to fight through the courts and rejected proposals for a compromise One proposal was to ensure compensation for the residents and another was to ensure that the residents of the neighborhood would stay in their homes in exchange for paying rent to Jewish non-profit organizations, which have proven ownership of the land, and now we are about to lose the property and live on the street.

One resident, a member of a family of 13, told TPS that “following the court ruling, the family will be forced to leave the house and live in tents on the street. A few days ago we received UNRWA papers confirming our ownership of the land and the documents the Jordanians passed to the Palestinian Authority last week, but we are facing a tsunami that will take us all away.”

“Several years ago, the Jews offered us compensation,” one resident said, “but the offer was not accepted by our lawyers and we are going to live on the streets.” Her remarks refer to a $15 million compensation offer offered by the Israeli owners 15 years ago.

Kamal Abu Kuider, an activist from eastern Jerusalem, said Tuesday that “it is clear to us that the lawyers chased the money and made the residents of the neighborhood victims. The PA and the Europeans paid them high fees and they preferred to drag the issue for years, even though it was already clear that the Jews had proved their ownership over the land.”

Abu Kuider claims, based on the residents of the neighborhood and documents, that “already in the late 70’s it became clear beyond any doubt that this is Jewish property and the papers presented in the courts left no doubt, but in recent years lawyers have preferred to fight this claim although they did not have any support for these allegations.”

Another resident added that “the high salary we paid to the defense and support staff from European bodies and non-profit organizations operating in the east of the city, led to the illusion that the future of the families is in good hands.”

For example, just ahead of the hearings regarding the expected eviction date on August 1, the Sheikh Jarrah families have been required to pay NIS 20,000 per family in recent days to finance legal expenses and attorneys’ fees.

A public figure in the east of the city referred to the allegations and confirmed that several years ago he warned the lawyers that they do not have evidence of Palestinian ownership of the land and will not be able to undermine the evidence of the Jews living in the Shimon Hatzadik compound regarding property ownership.

A very senior Palestinian Authority official also confirms this, saying “the lawyers have a great responsibility for the current situation in which close to 30 families are about to lose their assets.”

The residents are not sure that the offer of alternative housing or for the payment of rent still exists following the court’s decision, but even this is still relevant, they are afraid to accept it for fear that it will be considered a land sale to Jews, a serious step for which they can be punished. Only recently the head of the Supreme Muslim Council renewed the ruling of 1935 that imposes a boycott and a death sentence on land sellers to Jews.

Islam Salah, a young man from eastern Jerusalem who came to a protest demonstration planned in Sheikh Jarrah, told TPS that “if the families vacate it will look at it as if they are recognizing Jewish ownership and therefore, we will not allow anyone to sell land or receive compensation arrangements because this will open the door to further transactions. The loss of homes and even death is better than the betrayal.”

Along with the allegations heard in the east of the city, the “Jerusalem Institution International,” an extremist Islamic body operating in Beirut, which called on the King of Jordan to act and help residents prove ownership of the land, now claims that “the occupier managed to purchase the houses with the help of the lawyers who betrayed the residents.”

Following the court’s decision and the five day-extension, Sheikh Jarrah residents spoke against the court and stated that “a religious Jewish judge who identifies with the settlers is responsible for the vacancies on the way” and claimed that “the settlers’ associations are trying to purchase the houses using false documents provided by the Israeli government while claiming they prove ownership of the buildings.”

One of the residents of the neighborhood told TPS that “we do not, in any case, recognize the authority of any Israeli court to hear eastern Jerusalem matters and therefore we do not relate to the documents in the possession of the settlers and their claims are irrelevant.”

The events in Sheikh Jarrah add to the tensions that already exist in eastern Jerusalem and a Hamas spokesman stated that “dealing with Israeli plans in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied Jerusalem is a national obligation that obliges all Palestinians and we are sure that the Palestinians will spare no effort to defend the city against the Israeli gang mentality, which persecuted and killed the Palestinians.”

“This is reminiscent of the Palestinian ‘Nakba’ in 1948 when the al-Ja’uni and al-Sa’ba families were forced to leave their homes in Jaffa and live in Jerusalem. The injustice against the Sheikh Jarrah families and their displacement for the second time obliges us to face Zionist arrogance in all forms of resistance,” a Hamas statement said.

Recently, a number of demonstrations took place in the neighborhood with the participation of Knesset members, Israeli Arabs and social activists from the anti-Israel boycott organizations, and now Hamas is calling for mass mobilization on May 9, when Israel will celebrate Jerusalem Day.

Arabs in Sheikh Jarrah threatened that the recent clashes at the Damascus Gate “will pale in comparison to the expected intifada when the evacuations begin.” Anas Salah, a medic from eastern Jerusalem, a graduate of a Magen David Adom course, says that “the entire Jerusalem public will mobilize to stand by the families who are fighting alone for Jerusalem.”

Islam Salah, who works at one of the Aroma branches in Jerusalem, warns of a violent outbreak. “We stand by the families who are left alone. We understand that the Palestinian Authority or the Europeans cannot be trusted or any other factor. We will preserve the rights of these families only through popular mobilization for the struggle.”

Signs were hung in Sheikh Jarrah condemning the so-called “ethnic cleansing” of the city’s Arabs. “We will stay here on olive oil and hyssop, we will not go and we will not give up,” read the signs.

However, one can now also hear very harsh criticism of the inability of the Palestinian Authority, along with words of praise for Hamas. The postponement of the Palestinian Authority elections also adds anger against Mahmoud Abbas in the east of the city.

Sources in the east of the city link the events of Sheikh Jarrah to the uprising of the Arab residents of Jaffa against what they call “settler dens” and point out that Sheikh Jarrah’s families, who are from Jaffa, are facing a second Nakba. “Why did we collect piles of weapons while Jerusalem was being robbed from us stone by stone?” A young man from the neighborhood wrote in the networks.

In recent months, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court has approved eviction orders for eight Arab families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

The legal basis for the eviction is the fact that the families are sitting on land that was Jewish-owned before 1948. The eviction claims against Sheikh Jarrah’s families were filed by a company called “Nahalat Shimon” owned by a foreign company registered in the US and which purchased the land from the Sephardic Committee and the Knesset of Israel Committee.

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Baruch reports on Arab affairs for TPS.