Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit notified the Supreme Court on Monday that he will not become involved in a contentious case dealing with the eviction of Palestinian families by Jewish landlords from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Attorneys representing the Palestinian families had petitioned for Mandelblit to weigh in on the case and the Supreme Court, which is hearing appeals against the convictions, said last month it would wait to hear from the attorney general before making a decision.
Mandelblit came to the conclusion that, from a legal point of view, the evictions cannot be prevented, Haaretz reported.
A source close to the attorney general told the newspaper that the political leadership had come to the same conclusion.
In his notification to the court Mandelblit wrote that in light of the many previous court proceedings on the matter over the years “and in view of the factual and legal determinations made in these proceedings, the attorney general has come to the conclusion that there is no place for him to join the proceedings” as the country’s top legal authority.
During discussions at the Justice Ministry, a suggestion was made that the state expropriate the contested houses and declare those living there as protected residents, Haaretz reported.
However, Mandelblit decided against the idea, with one of the cited reasons being that a similar proposal in the past by the Supreme Court had been rejected by the Palestinian residents.
The pending evictions in Sheikh Jarrah have been the subject of protests in the capital. Those demonstrations, along with unrest at the Temple Mount, were cited by the Hamas terror group as the reason it fired rockets toward Jerusalem on May 10. Hours later Israel launched Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza.
On Sunday, Haaretz reported that during meetings with Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Washington last week, senior Biden administration officials expressed their concern over the latest Jerusalem tensions, worrying that they could lead to another spillover in Gaza just weeks after the 11-day conflict ended.
Tensions in the capital have remained high in the Sheikh Jarrah case, with police on Sunday arresting prominent Palestinian activist twins in the neighborhood on allegations that they participated in rioting there during protests against the evictions. The previous day, police nabbed Al Jazeera correspondent Givara Budeiri while she was reporting from a protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Police claimed she assaulted officers, charges she has denied.
The Foreign Press Association’s Israel and the Palestinian Territories chapter issued a rare statement of condemnation Sunday about Budeiri’s arrest, accusing officers of using excessive force when grabbing her. She suffered a broken arm.
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 of eviction, 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.