The Al Kurd Family, residents of the East Jerusalem neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah, have today won another trial in their struggle against settlers occupying their house. The Jerusalem District Court ordered the settlers to vacate the half of the Al Kurd family home they have occupied. This was the second judicial order issued to the settlers, following a previous Israeli Supreme Court order of February 2007. The District Court also reiterated the State of Israel’s obligation to enforce the order if ignored by the settlers.
The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem was built by the UN and Jordanian government in 1956 to house Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. The Al-Kurd family, refugees from Jaffa and West Jerusalem, initially moved into the neighborhood hoping to return to their homes (in Israel proper) under their international Right of Return. With the start of the Israeli occupation following the 1967 war, settlers started claiming ownership of the land the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was build on.
Arguing they had purchased the land from a previous Ottoman owner in the 1800s, settlers claimed ownership of the land. In 1972 settlers successfully registered this claim with the Israeli Land Registrar. While the Al-Kurds family continued legal proceedings challenging the settlers claim, the settlers started filing suits against the Palestinian family.
In 2006, the court ruled the settlers claim void, recognizing it was based on fraudulent documents. Subsequently, the Al-Kurd family lawyer petitioned the Israeli Land Registrar to revoke the settlers registration of the land and state the correct owner of the land. Although it did revoke the settlers claim, the Israeli land Registrar refused to indicate the rightful owner of the land. This refusal is in clear defiance of the Courts ruling.
To further complicate the Al-Kurd family’s situation, settlers began occupying an extension of their home. Despite the fact that their claim to the land was revoked, settlers were given the keys of the Al-Kurds family home extension by the local, Israeli, municipality. This was possible after the municipality had confiscated the keys of the extension -to house the natural expansion of the Al-Kurd family- declaring its construction illegal.
In defiance of all logic, in July 2008 the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the eviction of the Al-Kurd family, for their refusal to pay rent to the settlers for use of the land. Although the settlers claim to the land had been revoked two years earlier, the court instead based their decision on an agreement made between a previous lawyer and the settlers. It should be noted that the Al-Kurd family -and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood as a whole- rejected this agreement and fired their legal representative.
The Al-Kurd family situation is exemplary of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. While settlers continue to operate -in cooperation with the Israeli government, municipality and police- in defiance of the law, Palestinians are denied their rights. Palestinians are living in fear of arrest for refusing to pay rent to settler associations that do not own the land. Moreover, Palestinians’ houses are illegally occupied by settlers whom Israel refuses to remove.
At the same time, the settlers’ association Nahlat Shemoun has issued a proposal to demolish Sheikh Jarrah and built 200 settlement units. The European Union describes the Israeli Government’s actions in East Jerusalem as discriminatory and recognizes a “clear Israeli intention to turn the annexation of East Jerusalem into a concrete fact.” Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem following the 1967 war, despite the illegality of such actions under international law.