After a three hour deliberation, the Israeli High Court proposed a compromise on Monday that will see the postponement “for decades” of the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, occupied Jerusalem. The proposal stipulates that a member of each family would be granted a lifetime “protected tenancy” on their own property in return for paying an annual rent of NIS1,500 ($465).
“This is the practical solution,” said Yitzhak Amit, a judge from the three-member panel of the High Court. “We recommend it precisely because… you do not want anyone to be thrown out of their home. This compromise will give us breathing space for a good many years until either the land is properly regulated or there is peace.”
On the face of it, the proposal looks good for the Palestinian families as it will give them the chance, perhaps for decades, to stay without an eviction order hanging over their heads. The rent is at least ten times lower than the market rate. It also looks as if the proposal puts pressure on the Nahalat Shimon Company, which claims ownership of the Palestinian property.
However, the reality is not so clear. Ilan Shemer, the lawyer who represents the Israeli-owned company, did not agree to the proposal and said that whatever is proposed, if accepted, would be an “empty agreement”. He accused the Palestinians families of not accepting the court’s rulings. “I have been handling this case for years, and they have not abided by any decision, so why do you think they would do so now?” he asked. This leaves it open for the company to stay quiet for now, but go back to court at any time in the future on the pretext that it did not agree on the deal reached with the families.
Moreover, the proposal will allow the Ministry of Justice to reopen the case at any time. This means that the tragedy of the Sheikh Jarrah families is simply suspended, pending a new opportunity for another eviction claim to be filed in court.
It is also important to note that if the families accept the proposal and pay the annual rent then they are acknowledging that the Israeli company owns their properties. In doing so, they would concede the case voluntarily. However, if they do not accept the proposal outlined by Judge Amit they retain the right to go back to court to prove their ownership and have it recognised by the state.
A positive result could never be guaranteed, though. The judges in the courts are all Israelis who always stand against Palestinian defendants. This has been the norm since the creation of the occupation state in 1948. Their judgements are based on laws which favour the state and its interests. If the judges could not rule against the Palestinian families now, I have no doubt that appropriate legislation would have been introduced just for this case.
The late Palestinian poet Samih Al-Qasim explained in a documentary produced by Al Jazeera’s Rawan Al-Damin that his family owned a lot of land before the creation of the Zionist state. When the occupation government wanted to confiscate his family’s land, they first ordered them not to use the land for a specific period while military manoeuvres were taking place nearby. After three years, the Israeli government issued notices telling the family that the land was confiscated by the state.
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Al-Qasim’s family turned to the Israeli legal system in protest. A judge told them that Israeli law stipulates that land which is “abandoned” for more than three years automatically becomes state property. When they pointed out that they had left the land at the request of the army, the judge told them to file a complaint against the army. The case was closed and the land was duly confiscated.
The Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah have or can obtain documents that prove their ownership of the land in question, which was transferred to them by the Jordanian government in the mid-1950s in a deal with UNRWA. This was twenty years before Israel’s 1967 occupation of Jerusalem. Their lawyers say that, according to Israeli law, these documents nullify the Israeli company’s claim to ownership. The government thus has time to enact legislation that will cancel the validity of the Jordanian deal. It would be no surprise if that happens.
Although one of the lawyers who represent the families has said that the court proposal is better than nothing for them, they have rejected it. “I am not a protected tenant,” insisted Nabil Al-Kurd, whose home is one of four claimed by the company. “I am the rightful owner. This is an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.”
All Palestinian families across the occupied Palestinian territories, including Sheikh Jarrah, must remain steadfast in their homes. They own their property and must not concede their ownership rights no matter how much pressure they face. Sooner or later, Israel’s occupation will end and they will be able to live peacefully and securely in their homes.