Analysis

Greenlighting East Jerusalem Eviction Attests to Revolution in Israel's Supreme Court

Israel's top judges have upheld a series of decisions that are at best a rubber stamp for injustice and at worst leading the conservative and reactionary charge

Silwan residents at the Supreme Court, November 21, 2018.
Emil Salman

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Palestinian residents of Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood against their eviction last Thursday, on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court's justices rejected a petition from a woman dispossessed of her property by a rabbinical court because she had committed adultery. That same day, it rejected an appeal by Sheikh Sayekh Abu Madi'am, who was sentenced to 10 months in jail for trespassing because he insisted on returning to the land in the Negev from which he had been forcibly evicted.

And on Wednesday, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by 104 residents of Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, allowing the settler organization Ateret Cohanim to resume proceedings to evict some 700 Palestinians from their homes.

A week of conservative decisions in Israel's top court

This series of decisions from the past week alone shows that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has completed her revolution. The High Court decision in Silwan is at best a rubber stamp for injustice, endowed with legal and moral flexibility; at worst, the court is leading the conservative and reactionary charge, both legally and in Israeli society more generally.

Wednesday’s ruling on the Silwan petition, written by Justice Daphne Barak-Erez, is quite thin. Its 22 pages summarize a legal and historical case that goes back 120 years.

>> Silwan, a model for oppression | Haaretz Editorial ■ Israel to open Jewish heritage center in Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem ■ Israel must explain how East Jerusalem land was transferred to right-wing NGO, top court rules ■ The justice minister's anti-democratic revolution | Haaretz Editorial

The petition challenged a 2002 decision by the Justice Ministry’s office of the administrator general to hand land that had been owned by Jews until 1948, but which is today home to 700 Palestinians, over to three members of Ateret Cohanim.

After first rejecting a request by the settlers and the state to dismiss the petition out of hand, the ruling detailed a series of flaws in the administrator general’s conduct. For instance, Barak-Erez wrote, the administrator, formerly knows as the Custodian of Absentee Property, released the land to Ateret Cohanim without even bothering to inform the residents who had lived there for decades, some of whom had even purchased their homes.

She also confirmed that the administrator never investigated whether the land’s legal classification under the laws of the Ottoman Empire – the ruling power at the time Jews purchased it – even allowed the land to be turned over. Only in the final stages of the legal process did the state start looking into this complex question, the justice bemoans, and there’s still no definitive answer to it.

Yet despite all these problems, her bottom line was that the High Court is the wrong place to investigate these factual arguments, and that the problems didn’t stem from the way the administrator acted, but rather “lie in the statutory arrangement.” Therefore, she rejected the petition.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Jerusalem, November 18, 2018
Emil Salman

As a result, the dozens of suits Ateret Cohanim has filed to evict the Palestinian residents will be resumed in the coming weeks.

At the end of the ruling, Barak-Erez paid some lip service, writing, “Evicting people who have lived on this land for decades – some of them without even knowing that the land belongs to others – creates a human problem.” She then proposed that the state provide “a solution” for those evicted from their homes, perhaps hinting at the generous “solutions” – in the form of either financial compensation or alternative housing – that have been given to settlers who took over privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank and were forced to move.

Perhaps Barak-Erez doesn’t know this, but the Palestinian families evicted from Silwan will be required to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels to the settlers after their eviction, in compensation for the costs of the legal proceedings and in rent for all the years they lived there.

Every brand-new intern in every court in Jerusalem known that when it comes to land laws, there are two classes of citizens. Palestinians, and only them, can be declared as absentees, whose land can be given to others. And only Jews can regain property that they owned before the 1948 War of Independence. This legal and moral injustice is evident in every case in which a Palestinian family is fighting eviction proceedings by a settler organization.

Ultimately, the judges, bureaucrats and attorneys will have to ask themselves how they operated within this warped system. Did they grease the wheels, or did they try here and there to put a spoke in them, to ask questions and prevent an injustice?

With regard to the current Supreme Court justices, the answer seems clear.