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Israeli courts give permission for settlers to move into Palestinian home in Sheikh Jarrah

1 December 2009

For immediate release

Israeli settlers take over Palestinian home, elderly resident suffers severe medical complications

On Tuesday morning at around 9.30am, a group of settlers surrounded the al-Kurd family home in Sheikh Jarrah and took over a section of the house.

Fifteen to twenty settlers, accompanied by private armed security and Israeli police forces, entered an extension of the Palestinian house, and started clearing it of the family’s belongings. The family was not present in this section of the house in compliance with a previous court order, however local sources reported that the settlers also attempted, on several occasions, to gain entry to the inhabited part of the house.

One Palestinian resident, Khamis al-Gawi, has been arrested shortly after the settlers arrived, and is still being held at a local police station. Two international activists, American and Swedish nationals, who were filming the settlers taking over the house were also arrested by the police and their video cameras confiscated.

Later in the day, two Palestinian women suffered medical complications as a result of the take-over and had to be transported to a local hospital in an ambulance. One of them, the daughter of the owner of the house Refka al-Kurd, Nadia, was taken to the hospital with a suspected heart attack.

The take-over came minutes after an appeal, challenging an earlier court decision that deemed this section of the house illegal and gave the settlers the right to enter the property, submitted by the family’s lawyer, was rejected by the Magistrate Court this morning. The al-Kurd family only found out that their appeal was rejected when they saw the settlers approaching their home.

The first attempt of the settlers to take over the house came on 3 November 2009. In a similar scenario, settlers entered the al-Kurd property and locked themselves in, leaving only when escorted out by the Israeli police. However, the house remained occupied by armed settler security 24 hours a day since then. Further attempts followed including one on 26 November at 1am, when five settlers invaded the house, attacking the Palestinian family. An elderly woman, Refka al-Kurd (87) suffered a stroke following the incident.

The al-Kurd home was built in 1956. An addition to the house was built 10 years ago, but the family was not allowed to inhabit the section, based on an earlier agreement with the settlers (reached by the family’s former lawyer without their knowledge), which is currently still under dispute.

The al-Kurds have become the fourth Sheikh Jarrah family whose house (or a portion of the home) has been occupied by settlers in the last year. So far, 60 people have been left homeless. In total, 28 families living in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, located directly north of the Old City, face imminent eviction from their homes.

These actions are illegal under international law, which prohibits the occupying power (in this case Israel) from transferring its own population into the occupied territory. East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, is considered an occupied territory and its de-facto annexation by Israel has not been recognized by international law.

An appeal submitted by the family’s lawyer will be heard tomorrow, 2 December 2009 at noon, in the District Court in Jerusalem.

A court case, determining the ownership of the whole house, including the section built in 1956 by UNRWA, will be heard on 15 February 2010. Similarly to the Hannoun, Gawi and Kamel al-Kurd families in the past, this hearing can result in an eviction order against the al-Kurd family.

Background on Sheikh Jarrah

Approximately 475 Palestinian residents living in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, located directly north of the Old City, face imminent eviction from their homes in the manner of the Hannoun and Gawi families, and the al-Kurd family before them. All 28 families are refugees from 1948, mostly from West Jerusalem and Haifa, whose houses in Sheikh Jarrah were built and given to them through a joint project between the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordanian government in 1956.

The eviction orders are a result of claims made in 1967 by the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesseth Yisrael Association (who since sold their claim to the area to Nahalat Shimon) – settler organizations that claim to have deeds for the land dating back to 1875. In 1972, these two settler organizations applied to have the land registered in their names with the Israel Lands Administration (ILA). Their claim to ownership was noted in the Land Registry; however, it was never made into an official registry of title. The first Palestinian property in the area was taken over at this time.

The case continued in the courts for another 37 years. Amongst other developments, the first lawyer of the Palestinian residents reached an agreement with the settler organizations in 1982 (without the knowledge or consent of the Palestinian families) in which he recognized the settlers’ ownership in return for granting the families the legal status of protected tenants. This affected 23 families and served as a basis for future court and eviction orders (including today’s take-over), despite the immediate appeal filed by the families’ new lawyer.

Furthermore, a Palestinian landowner, Suleiman Darwish Hijazi, has legally challenged the settlers’ claims. In 1994 he presented documents certifying his ownership of the land to the courts, including tax receipts from 1927. In addition, the new lawyer of the Palestinian residents located a document, proving the land in Sheikh Jarrah had never been under Jewish ownership. The Israeli courts rejected these documents.

The first eviction orders were issued in 1999 based on the (still disputed) agreement from 1982 and, as a result, two Palestinian families (Hannoun and Gawi) were evicted in February 2002. After the 2006 Israeli Supreme Court finding that the settler committees’ ownership of the lands was uncertain, and the Lands Settlement officer of the court requesting that the ILA remove their names from the Lands Registrar, the families returned back to their homes. The courts, however, failed to recognize new evidence presented to them and continued to issue eviction orders based on decisions from 1982 and 1999 respectively. Further evictions followed in November 2008 (al- Kurd family) and August 2009 (Hannoun and Gawi families for the second time). At present, settlers occupy all these houses and the whole area is patrolled by armed private security 24 hours a day.

The ultimate goal of the settler organizations is to turn the whole area into a new Jewish settlement and to create a Jewish continuum that will effectively cut off the Old City form the northern Palestinian neighborhoods.

On 28th August 2008, Nahalat Shimon International filed a plan to build a series of five and six-story apartment blocks – Town Plan Scheme (TPS) 12705 – in the Jerusalem Local Planning Commission. If TPS 12705 comes to pass, the existing Palestinian houses in this key area would be demolished, about 500 Palestinians would be evicted, and 200 new settler units would be built for a new settlement: Shimon HaTzadik.