Israel's Top Court Proposes Compromise to Prevent Sheikh Jarrah Eviction

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The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel’s Supreme Court presented a detailed compromise proposal on Monday that would allow a group of Arab families living in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to continue living in their homes with the status of protected tenants.

Presented during a hearing on a lawsuit seeking to evict the families, the proposal would end the threat of eviction for the foreseeable future.

Under the proposal, the three families would be recognized as first-generation protected tenants, meaning they would continue to enjoy the status for two more generations. A fourth family would be deemed a second-generation tenants, meaning one more generation of the family could continue living there as protected tenants. The families would retain the right to prove they have ownership rights to the houses.

The compromise comes amid a bitter legal dispute that has garnered worldwide attention over Palestinian rights in the city and played a role in fomenting riots in East Jerusalem last May. If accepted, the justices’ plan could spare Israel any fallout arising from an eviction order, but a compromise faces strong political opposition from Palestinians and Israeli rightists, both of whom see the dispute as part of a fight over the demographic future of the city.

The proposal by Justices Isaac Amit, Noam Sohlberg and Daphne Barak-Erez also recommended that the families pay rent to Nahalat Shimon, the nonprofit organization that filed the suit seeking their eviction. “Each family will deposit yearly rent of 2,400 shekels [$750] in the account of the counsel of the Nahalat Shimon Co. The payment will be deposited every year in advance beginning January 1, 2020 and every January 1 thereafter,” according to the plan.

The justices made it clear in their proposal that it would not affect the claims by the parties concerning the ownership of the compound: Nahalat Shimon would be recognized as the owner of the land where the houses sit until a ruling is made in the case. However, the residents would retain the right as protected tenants to fix, paint, renovate and change the interiors of their homes at any time, without needing approval from Nahalat Shimon, said the justices.

Under the compromise, Nahalat Shimon would commit to refraining from steps to evict the families or applying for building permits until the legal process is completed or 15 years have passed from the signing of a compromise agreement, whichever comes first. The families would also pay the nonprofit court and legal fees as ruled by two lower courts in the case, but in the lower amount of 30,000 shekels, within 60 days of the signing of the compromise agreement.

The justices made it clear that it was only a proposal and that the two parties retained the right to reach understandings between themselves based on it.

The two sides were told to present their positions on the proposal to the court simultaneously and separately by November 2. The justices said the proposal was an attempt to bridge the gaps between the parties involved, and was only a compromise. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the court would rule based on the arguments of the parties and evidence submitted.

At the previous hearing, in August, both sides expressed their reservations about a more general but similar proposal. The Palestinians agreed to most of the terms but refused to recognize Nahalat Shimon as the owner.

“What we are saying is let’s bring this down from the level of principles to a pragmatic level. People should be able to continue living there – that’s the idea – to try and reach a practical arrangement without making declarations of one kind or another. We’ve seen how interested the media are in this. We want a practical solution,” said Amit at the August hearing.

Nahalat Shimon’s claim goes back to 1876, when Ashkenazi Jews bought a plot of land near the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik, a Jewish high priest from ancient times. A small Jewish neighborhood was founded on part of the land. Nahalat Shimon, which was set up by right-wing activists, acquired the rights to the land from the original owners and has since been trying to evict the Arab families.

The families have been living at the site since 1956, after the Jordanian government and the United Nations built 28 small homes there to house Palestinian refugees.

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