Israel’s supreme court must make a decision on whether to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, in a final hearing in the controversial case that helped spark community violence within Israel and a new war with Hamas to early this year.
A verdict in the deeply controversial case is expected Monday morning, which could lead to current residents of the neighborhood being forcibly displaced to make way for Jewish settlers in a decades-long dispute.
The ruling was delayed in May, when the state attorney general asked at the last minute for more time to study the case. But by then anger over the planned evictions had led to some of the worst riots in Jerusalem in years, in which hundreds of Palestinians were injured in clashes with police.
Sheikh Jarrah’s protests coincided with a decision to ban traditional Ramadan gatherings at Jerusalem’s holy sites and marches and riots by far-right Jewish groups, in violence that escalated into an 11-day clash with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which killed 254 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel.
The Times of Israel reported that the Israeli government was seeking to postpone the hearing for another six months in order to defuse tensions and appease the Joe Biden administration, which opposes the evictions. New Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is expected to make his first state visit to Washington DC in late August.
Several Israeli media outlets have also reported that if the court refuses to hear the Palestinians’ appeal petition, it is unlikely that it will order the state to carry out the evictions or set a deadline, and that the Bennett government could avoid conflict by citing a 1991 lawyer. general decision that the police can refuse to implement evictions if there is danger in doing so.
However, the case is being watched with nervousness by communities across the city still reeling from the violence earlier this year. Since the May clashes, Sheikh Jarrah has been under a police blockade, which residents say amounts to a siege.
“It is a constant nightmare for Sheikh Jarrah’s families: they inherited these problems from their parents and grandparents,” said Sami Ershid, a lawyer who has represented affected Palestinians for the past 15 years.
“From the beginning they are seen as second-class citizens in a system of comprehensive discrimination. The first step toward justice is to reopen the property issue and we are hopeful that the court will give us space to discuss all of these difficult issues. “
Sheikh Jarrah, named after a doctor who treated Saladin, the Muslim leader who drove the crusaders out of Jerusalem in the 12th century, is a wealthy neighborhood in East Jerusalem 500 meters (550 yards) north of the Gate of Damascus. Israel seized the Old City, along with East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in 1967.
The area is primarily home to Palestinians, but Israeli settlers have moved into some of their properties, saying they were owned by Jews before the 1948 war.
In a decision criticized by human rights groups as “a cynical attempt to evade responsibility,” Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in June that he would not intervene in the Sheikh Jarrah affair. Israeli media reported that his office had concluded that there were no legal means to prevent evictions.
Ershid and his partner have submitted a new legal opinion suggesting that current residents of Sheikh Jarrah have all property rights to their homes because the Jordanian government granted the property and began registering the properties before the process was halted in the 1967 war.
However, lower courts have upheld claims that the properties belong to the Israeli company Nahalat Shimon.