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Palestinian Dispossession in East Jerusalem

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Palestinian Dispossession in East Jerusalem
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Jerusalem RallyFor Jews, Jerusalem is its historic capital. Muslims also claim it for the third holiest site in Islam, containing the 35 acre Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif), including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

The 1947 UN Partition Plan designated Jerusalem an international city under a UN Trusteeship Council. After Israel's 1947-48 War of Independence, it was divided between Israel and Jordan, and during Israel's 1967 Six-Day War, East Jerusalem was captured and occupied, its current status today.

In March 2009, a confidential EU report (now public) accused Israel of using settlement expansions, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies, restrictive permits, closing Palestinian institutions, the West Bank Separation Wall, and various other ways to "actively pursu(e) the illegal annexation" of East Jerusalem and "increase Jewish presence" in the city.

In a December 2009 report, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel affirmed the EU report's concerns. Titled "Dispossession and Eviction in Jerusalem," it provides historical context, a legal overview, and case study examples in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood between the Old City and Mount Scopus.

The community "has become the site of a protracted legal battle whose implications range from the evictions of more than 25 families to the visibility of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and the" ultimate status of Jerusalem.

Four families have already been evicted from homes they've lived in for over 50 years. The others are awaiting court appearances and rulings to decide their fate, nearly certain given Israel's history of judicial unfairness toward Arabs, including its own citizens having no rights in a nation affording them solely to Jews.

Since the 1970s, Israeli settlers have targeted Sheikh Jarrah, seeking control of property they claim Jews owned before 1948 as a way to increase Jewish residency in "strategically located" parts of East Jerusalem. Specific areas include the Shepherd Hotel compound, the Karm Al-Mufti olive grove, and Karm Al-Ja'ouni, but Sheikh Jarrah in its entirety demonstrates the futility of decades of legal battles and "an inherent legislative bias that renders adherence to international legal standards ineffectual."

Background

In 1956, three UNWRA-Jordanian agreements promised 28 families Sheikh Jarrah property deeds they never got. One let them lease the land as refugees. The second agreed to fund their homes, and the third stipulated that "in exchange for nominal rent payments (and other provisions), the families would lease (them) for three years," after which they'd have legal title. Despite adhering to contract terms, they never got it.

After the 1956 Six-Day War, the Israeli General Custodian controlled Sheikh Jarrah. Then in 1972, the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Israel Committee (both religious and ideological) sought ownership rights, based on a historical and religious affiliation during the Ottoman era, using "koshan," a legal title as the basis of their claim, dating from the early 19th century, then finalized in 1886.

The "koshan's" validity is central to the current claim and legal challenges to decide who has rightful ownership. But according to expert testimonies, the document's authenticity is in doubt as they don't conform to Ottoman era criteria, so therein lies the rub.

Further, according to the Israeli Land Registry Office,  the "koshan" doesn't bear on the rights of parties already inhabiting the land and isn't proof of ownership.  Nonetheless, 23 Palestinian families were ordered to pay rent. Legal challenges followed, so it's for the courts to decide who owns the land rightfully.

Earlier in 1982, a protracted legal battle began after the Committees jointly sued 23 of the families. At the time, it was resolved by granting the validity of the Committees' claim while giving the families "protected tenant" status, removing the threat of eviction provided they paid rent regularly and refrained from renovating or changing the property. The case became a modern precedent for settling Karm Al-Ja'ouni neighborhood disputes, but it failed to address the legitimacy of the Committees' claim or the consent of the other 17 families.

The agreement became the legal basis for subsequent court-ordered evictions and "rendered....inquiries into the legitimacy of the Committees ownership claims redundant from a domestic legal perspective."

Here's the problem. The four evicted families deny ever consenting, their lawyer acting on his own for settlement, yet what he achieved "diverged greatly" from his clients' wishes. The families remain steadfast, saying they were misrepresented, kept uninformed, and maintain the homes are theirs, based on the UNRWA-Jordanian agreement.

In addition, the 1982 court decision stipulated that the settlement may be challenged if clear proof shows it was reached on false grounds. Perhaps so as the affected families got no additional benefits beyond their undisputed rights.

"Protected tenancy" derives from the 1972 Tenant Protection Law, protecting against East Jerusalem evictions under Israeli law. Nonetheless, the settlement became the legal standard for subsequent confrontations over ownership claims.

Numerous legal actions followed without resolution, despite the "koshan's" uncertain authenticity based on a 19th century Ottoman document. However, the Committees have prevailed so far, not the families, four already evicted, the others very much in jeopardy. From an overall perspective, the:

"measures employed to (remove them) relate to one of a number of complementary initiatives undertaken by both public and private actors intent on creating, and maintaining, a Jewish demographic majority throughout occupied East Jerusalem" toward the ultimate goal of making all Jerusalem exclusively Jewish.

Currently, four Sheikh Jarrah planning schemes are in different approval stages, the largest being TPS 12705, submitted by Nahalat Shimon International in August 2008, applying directly to the land where the families live. If approved, construction of 200 new Jewish only residential units will proceed, affecting 500 Palestinians who'll be evicted and their homes demolished.

Other developments involve smaller projects, all favoring Jews over Palestinians. Together, they'll "advance the creation of Israeli strongholds in the holy basin surrounding the Old City with Sheikh Jarrah to the north, Silwan to the south, and the Mount of Olives to the east." The idea is to build a number of Jewish neighborhoods linking West Jerusalem and Mount Scopus, a Jewish continuity, simultaneously displacing longstanding Palestinian residents from their own land.

As for the 28 Palestinian families, they're an impediment to Israel's aim. The solution then is remove them with the help of obliging courts that usually deliver.

The issue "also represents the most evolved (initiative) facilitating the development of Jewish settlements throughout this sector of occupied East Jerusalem." It began over 30 years ago, initiating a long succession of rental demands and subsequent legal actions.

Family Testimonies

The Al-Kurd Family's testimony is instructive. Shortly after the 1948 war, Fawzyeh Al-Kurd was born in the Old City. Needing a new home, she found it in Sheikh Jarrah, thanks to the UNWRA-Jordan agreement. She's been there ever since, married Mohammed Kamel Al-Kurd in 1970, and raised six children. Two years later, litigation demanding rent began when she was young and didn't realize the consequences.

Over the years, hardships and continuous legal proceedings generated "fear and uncertainty" that culminated on November 8, 2008 when heavily armed, masked police entered their home forcibly in the middle of the night after locking down the neighborhood.

Though ill and confined to a wheelchair, Mohammed  was thrown to the sidewalk, suffered a heart attack, and died a week later from a second one. He was too sick to contest. In mourning, Fawzyeh lived in a tent, protested, and was harassed by police. Confused and frustrated, she noted that "Many people, organizations, and governments know of my case, yet the world has remained silent."

In two separate 1999 lawsuits, the Committees demanded that the family be evicted over rent delinquency and Tenant Protection Law violations. They prevailed, and an eviction order was issued, based on a 1989 Civil Appeal ruling and the Committees' 1972 "koshan." The Al-Kurds were held in contempt for violating the Committees' rights, the judgment also saying if the family objected, they had to pay rent to a court fund until the ownership question was resolved.

The Al-Kurds' appeal was rejected on the grounds that the family failed to prove they were misrepresented and that delay in filing the claim effectively undermined their position.

In 2008, the family sued in the High Court of Justice (HCJ) in which they requested a declaratory judgment under which their lawyer's agreement and subsequent verdicts would be voided. Again they were rejected, the HCJ ruling that the family failed to meet the requisite burden of proof.

The Al-Ghawi family's experience was just as frustrating - losing their home, living in a tent for six months until returning while legal proceedings continued until receiving a final notice in August 2009 when police stormed the house, removed them forcibly, and destroyed most of their belongings in the process. Reflecting on the episode, Fuad Al-Ghawi said "The reaction of the children has been terrible. They are afraid and unable to forget that they once lived" there.



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