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High Court says Palestinians can remain in Sheikh Jarrah homes pending ruling

Israeli riot police officers scuffle with protesters during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, February 18, 2022. Pictured on the ground in a blue sweater is Joint List MK Ofir Cassif. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Israeli riot police officers scuffle with protesters during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, February 18, 2022. Pictured on the ground in a blue sweater is Joint List MK Ofir Cassif. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Israeli High Court of Justice rules that four Palestinian families in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah will not be evicted until a separate legal process runs its course.

The Palestinian families will be allowed to remain in their homes while the Justice Ministry reopens the long-dormant question of who owns the land on which the houses were built. In the meantime, the Palestinian families will pay a reduced, symbolic amount of rent to the court.

The evictions in Sheikh Jarrah have become a symbolic struggle, capturing headlines in Israel and around the world. Israeli officials have warned that the tense situation in the flashpoint neighborhood could lead to a renewed escalation between Israel and the Palestinians.

The framework imposed by the court is similar to a compromise floated by the justices last year. Both the Palestinians and the Jewish group seeking to evict them rejected the deal. This time, the court didn’t ask.

“At this point, I will repeat the principle of the compromise issued by the assembled justices. But this time, not as a compromise, but as a court ruling binding the two sides, like a mountain hanging over their heads,” writes Justice Yitzhak Amit for the majority.

Amit is joined by his fellow justice Dafna Barak-Erez, who articulated different legal rationales but came to similar “practical conclusions,” Barak-Erez writes.

Justice Noam Sohlberg dissents, noting that the Palestinians have failed to pay rent for several decades. “They have violated their commitments as protected tenants, and it was only just that the [lower] courts ordered their eviction,” Sohlberg writes.

Ronit Levine-Schnur, an adviser to the Palestinian legal team, describes the ruling as “a great victory for justice.”

The four Sheikh Jarrah homes were built on land owned by Jews before the 1948 war. After Israel conquered East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, the government passed laws allowing Israelis to reclaim properties that had been taken over by the Jordanian government.

The Palestinian defendants have presented evidence that the Jordanian government was in the process of registering the land to its Palestinian owners before the 1948 war. The court has now said the Palestinians cannot be evicted until that land registration question is resolved.

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