Palestinians sound the alarm over Israeli eviction threat

JERUSALEM – Facing a threat of forced eviction by Israeli authorities, Palestinian families at Sheikh Jarrah dispute an Israeli Supreme Court ruling yesterday that there is now no legal basis for their forced eviction. Their lawyer says they may appeal, even if the Israeli government does not.

The families may be able to appeal the decision to the Israeli Supreme Court since the court gave them an opportunity to comment on it prior to its decision, says Issawi Twally, a spokesman for the families.

Israelis and Palestinians say the Jarrah neighborhood is one of the main flashpoints in their ten-year long conflict, because as the central story of the eight-day war in 1967, Israel quickly incorporated the whole neighborhood. The property’s Arab owners then prevented any Jews from buying it and are now demanding the property for themselves.

Yesterday’s ruling could endanger the safety of the tenants living in Sheikh Jarrah, says Paz Atef, an accountant who lives in the neighborhood with his family. “Without families, there won’t be a neighborhood,” he says.

Mr. Twally says his clients plan to appeal yesterday’s ruling by the court as an act of “national justice.”

Herb Siprak, a spokesman for Israeli border police, says that his force is now awaiting legal advice to determine how it will handle the family’s plight.

On the Israeli side, the ministry of public security is planning on ignoring the court’s ruling, which Ms. Siprak said would be to the detriment of public safety.

In its ruling yesterday, the court made four points. It suggested the houses might be sold to Jews, and said any family living in the site should be declared by the courts to be an illegal settler. The court also said it considers it illegal to allow such a large group of people to live in such a small piece of land, and that it is entirely within Israel’s right to expropriate the land for public use.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who visited Sheikh Jarrah this past week, sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating that the Israelis cannot extend their exclusive legal right of ownership over the property further east, where surrounding neighborhoods are populated by Jewish residents.

The families of Sheikh Jarrah are divided over yesterday’s ruling. Several families are going to file a lawsuit against the Israeli government in an attempt to establish and enforce their right to live in the area, Twally says.

Those who did not want to go into court say the injustice of their removal will eventually be rectified. “They are the ones who will get away with it,” said Mr. Ashiq, while sitting in his home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Many in Sheikh Jarrah feel they have no choice but to take action, even if it delays things. “I will go to jail, I will go to court, I will do whatever I have to, because they will not give us a decent home,” Twally says.

Siprak says his security forces will find a way to deal with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah who may be angry or disturbed by the decision. “This is the way they dealt with Palestinians when we arrived here,” he says.

Habash al-Madhoun, a Palestinian owner of a house in Sheikh Jarrah who is currently living in Kuwait, says that if the families are forced out of the neighborhood, it is simply a step towards Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

“They are the only people from an occupied territory who can buy land for the next 50 years,” he says.

Nasser Zakher, an activist in Sheikh Jarrah who has offered to buy Arab homes in the area for Palestinians hoping to relocate there, tells a different story.

“The Israelis don’t have a final solution for us here in Sheikh Jarrah,” he says. “Every time we go for house, they close the door on us.”

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