Supreme Court floats compromise in Sheikh Jarrah eviction cases

Justices tell residents, Jewish owners they’re seeking ‘practical solution’; Palestinians offered protected tenancy in exchange for paying rent to Jewish owners

Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and European diplomats attend a hearing regarding their eviction from their homes at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and European diplomats attend a hearing regarding their eviction from their homes at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At a packed courtroom hearing, the Supreme Court suggested a compromise proposal Monday that could see Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah avoid being evicted by the Jewish Nahalat Shimon organization for decades.

“This compromise will give us breathing room for a good many years until either the land is properly regulated or there is peace,” Justice Yitzhak Amit told the courtroom.

The Sheikh Jarrah evictions have been a rallying cry for Palestinians in recent months and sparked violent clashes in East Jerusalem that spread far beyond the contested city — and were even partly responsible for the flare-up between Israel and Gaza terror groups in May.

Lower Israeli courts have already approved the eviction of the four Sheikh Jarrah families, although the Supreme Court has yet to issue its own final decision.

Monday’s proposed compromise would see the Palestinians stay on as protected tenants, making it harder — but not impossible — to evict them. They would pay NIS 1,500 ($465) in yearly fees to Nahalat Shimon, likely a small fraction of the market rent for their homes.

The Palestinians could choose whoever they wanted to be considered protected tenants, and they would be considered to be first-generation tenants. Since Israeli law allows the children of first-generation protected tenants to maintain their status under certain conditions, this could mean the evictions would be delayed for decades.

In exchange, Palestinians would recognize only that Nahalat Shimon is registered as the property’s owner in Israel without conceding ownership to the Jewish organization. The compromise leaves open the possibility that the Justice Ministry could reopen the case.

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

“One of the aspects of the compromise proposal is that everything is contingent on the settlement of title procedure. Their offer is to understand the situation as on standby until the title procedure is settled,” said Ronit Levine-Schnur, an Israeli law professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, who is advising the Palestinian legal team.

Effectively, as the Palestinians would not concede ownership to Nahalat Shimon under the compromise, a court could one day rule in their favor in a future land registration procedure, Levine-Schnur said.

The court gave the four Palestinian families threatened with eviction seven days to assemble a list of names to be declared protected tenants as part of the deal. The justices urged the Palestinians to accept the compromise.

“We want a practical solution,” Amit said. “Without declarations of victory by one side or the other.”

But Nahalat Shimon’s lawyer, Ilan Shemer, rejected the deal. He said that the Palestinians must formally recognize his client’s ownership over the properties.

“There have been hundreds of verdicts and they have never complied with anything. It’s absolutely cheap. If ‘owners’ isn’t put in writing, I’m not ready to meet again,” Shemer said in court.

“This compromise will be an empty compromise,” he added.

Justice Yitzhak Amit addresses attendees in Israel’s Supreme Court during an eviction hearing for Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah on August 2, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The four Sheikh Jarrah homes in dispute were built on land owned by Jews before the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, when they were seized by Jordan and leased to Palestinian families. After Israel captured the area in the 1967 Six Day 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 the original owners when possible. The Jewish trusts that owned the site appealed for its return to their hands, sparking decades of legal battles with Palestinian residents who vowed to stay put.

Palestinian advocates gathered at the court described the deal as the best they could hope for from a legal standpoint. Palestinian attorney Hosni Abu Hussein, one of two lawyers representing the Sheikh Jarrah residents, said residents could be amenable to the proposal.

“It is possible. But we will need to consult on the matter,” said Abu Hussein following the hearing.

But recognizing even a reduced form of ownership and paying rent to Nahalat Shimon — an organization Palestinians say hopes to expel them from East Jerusalem — would be a bitter pill to swallow for Palestinian residents.

“I’m not a protected tenant, I’m the rightful owner. This is an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes,” said Sheikh Jarrah resident Nabil al-Kurd, whose home is one of four to which Nahalat Shimon has laid claim in the ongoing case.

Nabil al-Kurd, a Palestinian resident of Sheikh Jarrah threatened by eviction, attends a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, August 2, 2021 (Aaron Boxerman/The Times of Israel)

Sheikh Jarrah residents and their lawyers have also recently published documents they claim reveal that Jordan was about to transfer the land to the residents before the Six Day War. Under Israeli law, this would have prevented Nahalat Shimon from reclaiming the homes under the 1970 act.

Shemer, Nahalat Shimon’s lawyer, rejected the Palestinians’ arguments. “They have nothing to connect them to these assets, just words,” he told the justices. “They have no rights. They’re not registered.”

Shemer did not respond to requests for further comment, including several phone calls following the hearing.

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.

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