Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sheikh Jarrah and the Jewish-only Right of Return


By Sam Gilbert - May 23, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [settlements] [Settlers] [Sheikh Jarrah]

A protest in Sheikh Jarah (archive). Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

 

The Shamasna family appeared in court this Monday, 20 May 2013, to appeal the 2012 District Court decision to evict the Palestinian family from their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem following a law suit instigated by Jewish settlers who claim ownership of the house under an Israeli law that allows property to return to Jewish owners who left the premises during the 1948 war. The Supreme Court offered a compromise between the family and the claimants, which would have allowed the Shamasna family to stay (conditionally) in their residence while paying higher rent.  Until 1967 rent was paid to the Jordanian government, five years after the occupation this rental contract passed to the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Properties.  The compromise was however firmly rejected by the settlers, represented by the right wing Israeli Land Fund (ILF)—a non-profit organization dedicated towards “acquiring all the land of Israel for the Jewish people.”

In 1967 Sheikh Jarrah was annexed to the municipal domain of Jerusalem. The Israeli government enacted an ordinance, which placed the property of Sheikh Jarrah residents under the control of the Israeli Custodian for Absentees property.  The Absentee Property Law was enacted in 1950 gives the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property the “right” to seize, administer and control land owned by persons defined as “absentee,” according to the Negotiation Affairs Department of the PLO.

In 1970 the Israeli court enacted the Legal and Administrative Matters law, which enabled Jews to make claims on property that they had previously owned in East Jerusalem.   Beginning in 1970, the Custodian General approached former Jewish tenants in Sheikh Jarrah to help them liberate their properties under the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, according to Haaretz.

The Shamasna family are refugees from the 1948 war and have lived in their East Jerusalem residence since 1964. According to Haaretz, they filed the original ownership lawsuit in 2009 in response to an eviction suit brought by the Justice Ministry’s Custodian; a suit engineered by right wing activists. In their appeal the family makes two claims: First that the members are protected tenants, having lived in their homes prior to the Six-Day War in 1967. This protected tenancy is based on the continuation of the protections guaranteed by the previous Jordanian government, which ensures renters are safeguarded from forced evictions or drastic rental increases. Second, the family unknowingly signed an unprotected lease agreement owing to the fact that it was in Hebrew, not Arabic. 

The Israeli Supreme Court has already rejected both of these claims, but had delayed the eviction pending appeal. The courts rejection of the Shamasna’s claims is based on the acknowledgment by the Israel Trustee’s office of the ILF’s exclusive ownership rights. The Trustees office was, after the 1967 war, charged with administering properties that were or claimed to be Jewish owned prior to 1948.

The Israeli High Court of Justice offered a compromise that would allow the Shamasna family to remain in the house only as long as their eldest family members were alive and on the condition that they pay rent to the Israeli Land Fund. The compromise further recognizes both the Fund’s ownership rights of the property and requires that the family vacate the residence when the eldest family members are deceased. 

 

Nonetheless, on Monday the claimants rejected this compromise, insisting that the Shamasna family members are not protected tenants and that the lease they knowingly signed explicitly acknowledges this. The court did not render a decision and will hear further arguments from both sides. No date has been set for a final court decision.

 

Settlements and the Jewish Right of Return

 

Sheikh Jarrah is one of a number of Jewish-Israeli settler enclaves found in Palestinian Neighborhoods throughout East Jerusalem, including the Muslim and Christian quarters of the old city. These enclaves, which like all settlements have been deemed illegal by the international community, lie in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods and are directly supported by both the Israeli Government and the Jerusalem municipality.

 

Eviction suits are brought forth through the Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970—a law enabling Jews, not Palestinians, to reclaim property left behind during the 1948 war.

The establishment of a Jewish presence in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank is succeeded through a variety of legal, military and administrative measures.  In the case of the Shamasna family, and many others like them, eviction suits are brought forth through the Legal and Administrative Law of 1970—a law enabling Jews, not Palestinians, to reclaim property left behind during the 1948 war.

A different kind of mechanism has been used in the West Bank to establish some 121 settlements and another 100 outposts on Palestinian territory. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, this has been done by declaring territory as “state land,” facilitating the establish of much larger settlements, including those that now surround East Jerusalem isolating the future Palestinian capital from the rest of west bank.

These tactics fit well within the Israeli State’s position regarding the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “contested” territory. According to the Israeli Ministries website, "The Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there.”  The Israeli government does not view the transfer of Israeli citizens (now some 400,000) as a violation fourth Geneva Convention.  Instead, the Israeli government maintains the position that the “forced population transfer to occupied sovereign territory cannot be viewed as prohibiting the voluntary return of individuals to the towns and villages from which they, or their ancestors, had been ousted.”  Of course this position does not apply to the disproportionate number of Palestinians that were “ousted” from their homes inside present day Israel.    

Be it a small house in East Jerusalem or one of the massive settlements that flank the cities borders, these settlements reflect an Israeli policy that openly discriminates against Palestinians. Regardless of whether the Shamasna family members are deemed protected tenants, or whether they knowingly signed the lease agreement, the fact remains; the 700,000 or more Palestinians that were forced to flee from their homes in 48 have no legal recourse to reclaim property. And while families like the Shamasnas face eviction, and more and more settlers move into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the right of return remains the exclusive privilege of one group. 

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