Old City Basin Watch: Israeli Courts Rule To Evict 11 Palestinian Families From Sheikh Jarrah & Batan Al-Hawa

17 February 2021
Over the past month, there have been a series of developments in various eviction proceedings against Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa, Silwan, two strategic areas on opposite ends of the Old City Basin. These locations are hubs of state-sponsored settler activity marked by mass eviction attempts against Palestinians and settler takeovers of their homes and bolstered by touristic settlement sites, which forge a ring of Israeli control around the Old City Basin. Together, these measures aim to foil the prospect of a negotiated resolution on Jerusalem and determine the endgame of the conflict.
  • District Court Dismisses Petition of Six Families from Sheikh Jarrah
  • Magistrates Court Rules to Evict Five More Families from Batan al-Hawa
  • Supreme Court Requests Opinion of Attorney General in the Cases of the Duweik, Shweiki and Odeh Families

District Court Dismisses Petition of Six Families from Sheikh Jarrah
On February 15, the Jerusalem District Court handed down its verdict in the case of six Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, dismissing the petition they filed against the eviction claim initiated by a settler group. The hearing on the petition took place at the District Court on February 9. According to the decision, the families, comprised of 27 individuals, must vacate their four homes in Sheikh Jarrah by 2 May 2021. The families have 60 days to file a request to petition the Supreme Court.

The Ja'uni, Askafi, Al-Kurd and Abu Hasna families are among dozens of Palestinian families in the Kerem Alja'oni section of Sheikh Jarrah facing similar eviction lawsuits filed by Nahalat Shimon, a US-registered company, working on behalf of settlers to establish a major settler enclave in the area. The settler group acquired the land from two Jewish associations who claim to have allegedly purchased the properties at the end of the 19th century and assert ownership rights on the basis of discriminatory Israeli legislation (see more below).  After the 1948 War, the Jordanian government assumed management of abandoned Jewish properties in East Jerusalem and thereafter designated land in the Kerem Alja'oni section of Sheikh Jarrah for the resettlement of dozens of Palestinian refugee families, including those mentioned above. As part of the Jordanian Housing Ministry's refugee rehabilitation project, new homes were built in the 1950's for 30 families in exchange for relinquishing their refugee status.

Settler Exploitation of Discriminatory Legal Mechanism
Through invoking the Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970, the Nahalat Shimon Company has therefore been advancing dozens of eviction claims against Palestinians, who were legally resettled under Jordanian law in this area of Sheikh Jarrah. This discriminatory legal mechanism— likewise being exploited by Ateret Cohanim in Batan al-Hawa— affords Jews the right to reclaim assets once owned in East Jerusalem before 1948. No parallel legal provision exists for Palestinians to retrieve lost properties in West Jerusalem. To the contrary, the 1950 Absentee Property Law enshrines that Palestinians who lost assets in Israel in 1948 cannot recover them. Moreover, since Jews who lost property in East Jerusalem in 1948 were compensated with alternative properties in West Jerusalem at the time, they are essentially entitled to double compensation under the 1970 law. 
Magistrates Court Rules to Evict Five More Families from Batan al-Hawa
On February 9, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court ruled in favor of the Ateret Cohanim settler organization, ordering the eviction of another five families from their four-level home in Batan al-Hawa. The Shahadeh family, comprised of five nuclear families, purchased the property in February 1967, just four months before the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem. The court ordered the families to vacate their home by August 2021. The families will likely appeal to the Jerusalem District Court. This decision follows close on the heels of other recent rulings by the Jerusalem Magistrates and District Courts against 12 other families from Batan al-Hawa facing eviction lawsuits filed by Ateret Cohanim.

Supreme Court Requests Opinion of Attorney General in the Cases of the Duweik, Shweiki and Odeh Families

As Ir Amim previously reported, the Duweik family (five nuclear families) filed a petition to the Supreme Court following the Jerusalem District Court ruling from November 2020, upholding the eviction demand initiated by Ateret Cohanim. On January 6, 2021, the Supreme Court requested an expert opinion from the Attorney General of Israel concerning elements within the Duweik family's petition and allotted 63 days (by March 10) for receipt of his response. A rare opportunity has been given to the Attorney General to actually address the exploitative nature and unethical basis of these eviction proceedings, which until now have been merely presented as private legal disputes over land ownership between ostensible landowners and residents. Upon submission of the Attorney General's opinion, the court will thereafter decide on the subsequent legal proceedings. In tandem, the court issued a stay on the District Court's eviction order against the family until a verdict is handed down by the Supreme Court.   

In the case of the Shweiki (two nuclear families) and Odeh families, they likewise petitioned the Supreme Court against the District Court's November decision to uphold Ateret Cohanim's eviction claim against them. According to the District Court's ruling, the eviction order would have gone into effect on February 1, 2021. However, the Supreme Court then issued a temporary injunction, freezing the eviction order until February 7, and instructed the families to respond to Ateret Cohanim's arguments by that date.  By February 4, the court had already ruled to issue a stay on the District Court's eviction order until the Attorney General submits his opinion in the case of the Duweik family.

No dates have yet been set for subsequent hearings in both cases. Ir Amim will continue to report on the developments.

Threat of Wide-scale Displacement
Since the beginning of 2020 until now, there has been a record number of court decisions upholding eviction claims against Palestinian families filed by settler organizations. Over the past year, the Israeli courts authorized the evictions of over 30 Palestinian families, totaling more than 100 individuals, from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa. While the families are in various stages of appeal proceedings, many have exhausted the relevant legal remedies, which could lead to a devastating wave of evictions in the coming months. 

If the evictions are not halted, a total of over 1000 Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa could ultimately be uprooted from their homes and communities and supplanted by settlers, potentially amounting to a form of forcible transfer. These measures not only constitute a flagrant violation of human rights, but also erode conditions necessary for any future political resolution on the city. 

Immediate intervention is therefore necessary to block these processes of forced displacement and dispossession.