|Following Monday's Supreme Court hearing on the leave of appeal for four families facing eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, the court issued its decision yesterday, stating its intent to advance the justices' proposal, which would afford protected tenancy status to the Palestinian residents. In the court's decision, the families were asked to provide by 10 August 2021 a list of tenants per household and their legal ties to the property in regards to the respective parties' claimed contracts with the Jordanian government. Thereafter, the court will examine if and how to proceed with the deliberations. No date has been set for an additional hearing.
It should be underscored that the families face a decision of profound weight. While the judges' proposal is presented as a compromise which would allow residents to remain in their homes for decades, the issue is actually far more complicated.
It is essential to bear in mind that the Israeli court continues to view the case through the lens of discriminatory Israeli laws that enable settlers to take over Palestinian property due to claims that prior to 1948 it was owned by Jews. The Israeli law does not allow Palestinians – including the Sheikh Jarrah families – to reclaim property which they lost due to the war in 1948.
While protected tenancy offers some assurances against arbitrary eviction, the law still allows for the eviction of protected tenants through a variety of means. Settler organizations are currently using these mechanisms in order to try and evict protected Palestinian tenants in other cases. Alternatively, the settler group could advance an urban renewal building plan, which would ultimately result in the eviction and demolition of the families' homes. In such a case, the families would be eligible for alternative housing elsewhere, but would lose their community and the homes in which they were living for decades and to which they are strongly tied. Indeed, settler leaders have already applauded the court's proposal calling it a victory.
Additionally, protected tenancy status will mean, in essence, that the families are not recognized as the owners of their homes. The significance is both symbolic and practical since it means that the families would lose all opportunity to claim ownership in the future - for example when the Israeli Government conducts a land registration process in the neighborhood. Past experience shows that regardless of any phrasing which may be used in an attempt to circumvent recognition of settler ownership, the declaration of protected tenants may be used against future claims by the families.
The judges’ resolve to push for a settlement indicates their reticence in issuing a substantive ruling which would obligate them to rule against the settler group and the discriminatory legal mechanism which grants Palestinian property to Jews. Such a settlement likewise enables the Israeli government to abdicate responsibility for these measures.
A fair proposal can only be one that is in accordance with International Law and its basic premise of protecting the occupied population and its right to property, family, and community life. This basic principle must not be forgotten as the Israeli government is trying to evade the strong pressure which the protests against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions have succeeded in creating.