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Supreme Court delays session on Sheikh Jarrah evictions amid Jerusalem violence

Justices grant attorney general’s request to postpone Monday hearing on pending removal of several Palestinian families from homes claimed by Jewish nationalists

Palestinians and left-wing activists protest against the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. April 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Palestinians and left-wing activists protest against the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. April 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court, amid daily violent clashes in East Jerusalem, has canceled a hearing scheduled for Monday that could have determined whether four Palestinian families in the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood will be evicted.

After the families asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to become a party to the case, Mandelblit’s office asked the Supreme Court for two weeks to consider the matter.

The court gave Mandelblit until June 8 to consider whether he will become a party to the case. The planned evictions — already approved by lower courts — will not go forward in the interim.

“A new date will be determined within the next 30 days. In the meantime, until further notice, I order a freeze on the decision by the appellate court, which does not imply any position regarding [that lower court’s decision],” Justice Yitzhak Amit wrote in the ruling.

Palestinians pray during a protest as local Palestinian families face eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, on May 8, 2021 (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

In all, over 70 Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah are set to be evicted in the coming weeks, to be replaced by right-wing Jewish Israelis. The Palestinians live in houses built on land that courts have ruled were owned by Jewish religious associations before the establishment of Israel in 1948.

The anticipated decision to evict the families came as Jerusalem lives through tense, violent days. The city has been on edge in recent weeks as Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police, with both sides blaming the other for igniting the confrontations.

Over 300 Palestinians have been wounded in the confrontations, including several seriously injured by rubber-tipped bullets in the head, eye and jaw, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. More than 20 Israeli officers were lightly injured.

Mandelblit on Sunday presented a sealed affidavit containing the recommendations of “relevant policymakers” regarding the Sheikh Jarrah case, for the court’s eyes only. According to the Walla news site, the affidavit contained opinions from senior Israeli security officials warning that evicting the families could lead to escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

“This case evokes sensitivities in other aspects, and as such, the attorney general will ask to present to the court an ex parte affidavit from relevant policymakers and professionals in a sealed envelope,” his office told the Supreme Court.

The Palestinian families had appealed the decision to the Supreme Court after it decided to hold a hearing to discuss the appeal Monday, which is also Jerusalem Day, a holiday commemorating Israel’s conquest of the city in 1967 from Jordan that is mostly celebrated by national religious Jews.

The ceremonies include a traditional march by Jewish Israelis through the Old City, including the Muslim Quarter. Palestinians widely view the march as a provocation. The timing raised fears that the already fragile situation in Jerusalem could escalate should a decision rejecting the families’ appeal come down as right-wing Jews marched through the Old City’s Palestinian areas.

Palestinians protest against Jewish activity in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on March 19, 2021. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90

Palestinians charge that a 1970 Israeli law — while not discriminatory on its face — in practice allows only Jews to reclaim lost property in East Jerusalem. No similar law exists that would allow Palestinians to claim their lost property from Israel’s War of Independence inside Israel.

“East Jerusalem Palestinians own hundreds of dunams in West Jerusalem, in Musrara and Talabiya. So why is the law written to be racially discriminatory — for Jews only, and not for Arabs?” Ta’al MK Osama Sa’adi asked The Times of Israel rhetorically at a Friday protest in Sheikh Jarrah.

Palestinians and their advocates charge that the evictions are part of an Israeli strategy to “Judaize” East Jerusalem and expel its Palestinian residents.

Knesset Member Osama Saadi attends a conference at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on July 2, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry has characterized the struggle as a “real estate dispute between private parties.”

The evictions have ignited uproar internationally, with both Israel’s Arab allies and the United States expressing concern over the move.

“We will not stop. We will continue to fight this theft in our neighborhood, under any circumstances, even if the expulsion decision does eventually come. We will not cease our struggle until we achieve our rights,” Nabil al-Kurd, a Sheikh Jarrah resident and a party to the current case, said Monday.

Jerusalem has seen heightened tensions between Palestinians and Israeli security forces since the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April. Hundreds of Palestinians protested police restrictions on gathering near Damascus Gate in late April, leading to violent clashes with cops, dozens of injuries and arrests.

After some Palestinians filmed videos in which they attacked ultra-Orthodox passersby, the Jewish supremacist Lehava group responded by marching through Jerusalem’s downtown calling for “Death to Arabs” and searching for Palestinians to attack.

Police removed the restrictions at Damascus Gate a week and a half after the protests began, but the tension seemed to only move to the contested neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and its families.

The two major Palestinian political movements — Fatah and the Hamas terror group — warned that they will respond should Israeli authorities evict the families. Mohammad Deif, a leader of Hamas’s armed wing, warned last Tuesday that Israel would pay “a heavy price” if it expelled the Palestinian families.

“If the aggression against our people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood does not stop immediately, we will not stand idly by,” Deif warned.

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