The Jerusalem District Court on Friday indefinitely postponed announcing a decision on an appeal against the eviction of several dozen Palestinian residents from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, delaying a verdict that some fear could reignite the tinderbox city.
The judges decided that they would wait to make their ruling until the Supreme Court hands down a decision on a similar appeal against other eviction orders in Silwan. The top court will only be convening on that matter in December, meaning the delay announced Friday essentially pushes off the second Silwan case to next year.
The eviction of 19 families in Silwan’s Batan al-Hawa section, including the cases discussed on Wednesday, is currently pending in Israeli courts.
Both cases revolve around claims on homes currently occupied by Palestinians but which were owned by Jews before Jordan occupied East Jerusalem during the war of Independence in 1948.
Similar cases in Sheikh Jarrah, another Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood, sparked protests and a harsh crackdown by police in early May, with the unrest eventually snowballing into the 11-day war fought between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers this month.
At a hearing on Wednesday, the district court said it would issue a decision on the appeals “soon,” while attorneys representing the Palestinian families petitioned for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to weigh in on the case.
In their Friday ruling, the judges said Mandelblit had already been ordered to issue a legal opinion in the similar Supreme Court case and that that would suffice.
The land in question was owned by Jews before the 1948-49 Independence War, when it was seized by Jordan and leased to Palestinian families. After Israel captured the area in the 1967 war, a 1970 Israeli law transferred all abandoned properties still held by the Jordanian government, including the Sheikh Jarrah homes, to the custody of the Israeli government. The law further obligated the release of properties to original owners when possible. The Jewish trusts that had owned the site appealed for its return to their hands, sparking a five-decade legal battle between the trusts and the Palestinian residents.
Israel says the issue is a private property dispute to be adjudicated by the courts. Palestinian residents argue that the demand to reclaim the site is part of a campaign by Israeli settlement groups to displace them and replace their community with a Jewish one.
According to Ir Amim, a left-wing human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, around 200 families in East Jerusalem are under similar threat, with cases slowly moving through administrative bodies and Israeli courts.
Palestinians and members of the international community accuse Israel of seeking to “Judaize” East Jerusalem by slowly evicting hundreds of families and replacing them with Jewish ones. Israel maintains that East Jerusalem is a part of its undivided capital and that the Jews moving into neighborhoods there do so legally.
The Silwan properties are claimed by Jewish Israelis backed by Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing foundation that works to strengthen the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem.
Several Jewish enclaves now exist within the mostly Arab neighborhood of Silwan, on a steep slope directly south of the Old City. The area is known in Hebrew as Siloah, and contains the City of David, an archaeological site thought to be the heart of the Iron Age city dating back to biblical times.
Fifteen European diplomats attended Wednesday’s hearing in a sign of their concern over the Israeli policy. Over 100 Palestinians protested outside the courthouse as well.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Israeli leaders this week that moving forward with a series of evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem could spark renewed “tension, conflict and war.”
While the secretary was still in Israel on Wednesday, the Supreme Court notified Mandelblit that he had until June 8 to submit a legal opinion regarding the appeals of four Palestinian families — more than 70 people — against their looming evictions from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
For its part, the Foreign Ministry has accused the Palestinian Authority of “presenting a real estate dispute between private parties, as a nationalistic cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem.”
In the weeks leading up to the 11-day Gaza war that ended last Thursday, Sheikh Jarrah became the scene of mass protests, with Palestinian demonstrators clashing with police.
Tensions eventually spilled over to the Temple Mount as well, and Hamas road the wave of violence, firing rockets at Jerusalem on May 10 that led to the IDF’s launching of Operation Guardian of the Walls.
Aaron Boxerman and Jacob Magid contributed to this report