A Jerusalem court indefinitely postponed the eviction of a Palestinian family from a home in the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Tuesday, potentially defusing an issue that had been a major contributor to tensions in the area.
The Salem family — around 11 Palestinians — were set to be evicted beginning on March 1. Israeli police had been given an order allowing them to remove the Palestinians at any point in March so that the new owner, right-wing city councilmember Yonatan Yosef, could move in.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that the eviction would be suspended to allow time to consider an appeal against the removal of the family.
In exchange, the Salems will deposit NIS 25,000 ($7,750) with the court as collateral, the justice ruled. The court ordered the property’s Jewish owners to respond to the Salems’ arguments as to why they should not be evicted.
The scheduled Salem eviction has been a major cause of tension in Sheikh Jarrah in recent weeks. Palestinians have protested on a near-nightly basis, leading to clashes with police and right-wing Jewish Israelis.
Sheikh Jarrah has become one of Jerusalem’s tensest neighborhoods in recent years as a small group of right-wing Jewish nationalists have moved in. The nationalists have used the courts to push their claims on the properties, which they say belonged to Jews before the area was captured by Jordan during the War of Independence, and have been accused of attempting to “Judaize” the mostly Palestinian neighborhood.
According to the left-wing Ir Amim nonprofit, some 300 Palestinians are currently under threat of eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, mostly in private cases filed by right-wing Jewish groups.
The planned eviction of several other Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah was a key factor in the rising tensions in Jerusalem that helped spark last May’s war between Israel and Hamas.
Officials have warned that fresh protests and rioting in the neighborhood could lead to a similar situation. Hamas spokesperson Mohammad Hamadeh threatened last week that the rising tensions in Sheikh Jarrah would again “explode in Israel’s face.”
Earlier this month, the home of Jewish resident Tal Yoshuvayev was firebombed. No one was wounded and several suspects were subsequently apprehended for their alleged role in the attack.
At a protest by Palestinians and left-wing Israeli activists against the evictions on Friday, police struck some demonstrators with clubs when they refused calls to disperse.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry describes the Sheikh Jarrah struggle in English as a simple real estate dispute. But both the Israelis and the Palestinians involved deem it part of a long-term battle to determine Jerusalem’s political future.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 in a move not recognized by the international community. Palestinians hope to see the capital of their yet-unrealized state in East Jerusalem, an aspiration opposed by the Israeli right.
The Salem family first arrived in Sheikh Jarrah as refugees after the 1948 war, and moved into a home that had been owned by Jews before the war, according to family members.
Israel conquered East Jerusalem in 1967. Soon after, a law was passed transferring properties abandoned by Israelis in 1948 to the government. The law further instructed the state to release them to their original Israeli owners whenever possible.
The original owners — the Jewish Israeli Haddad family — reclaimed the Salem home. The Jerusalem district court apparently issued an eviction order in 1987. But the order was neither enforced nor canceled; the Salems paid rent to the Haddads through the court, according to their lawyer.
Yonatan Yosef, an outspoken proponent of Jews moving into Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, bought the house from the Haddads and initiated eviction proceedings against the Salem family.
Israel’s civil enforcement agency handed Yosef an eviction order on the basis of the 1987 court ruling in December. The Salem family’s lawyer argued in a court filing that the old ruling had expired due to misuse and should no longer be implemented.