Israel's Top Court Won't Rehear Case on Eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem

The Sabbagh family has been ordered to leave its home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in favor of Jewish settlers by January 23

File photo: Evacuation of a Palestinian family from Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, September 5, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Supreme Court refused Thursday to rehear the case of a Palestinian family facing eviction from its East Jerusalem home in favor of Jewish settlers.

The Sabbagh family, numbering some 40 people, has been ordered to leave its home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood by January 23. The court had previously upheld the eviction, but the family had asked it to rehear the case with an expanded panel of justices.

The Sabbaghs are refugees from Jaffa, where their original family home still stands. But under Israeli law, Palestinians — unlike Jews — cannot reclaim property abandoned during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

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Since 1956, the Sabbaghs have lived in Sheikh Jarrah, in a building built on land owned by Jews prior to 1948. In 2003, a company called Nahalat Shimon, which is registered overseas, bought the land from its original Jewish owners. The company’s Israeli representative, veteran settler activist Tzahi Mamo, then began proceedings to evict the Palestinian residents.

In 2009, the company managed to evict three Palestinian families from the neighborhood, but this sparked international protests, as well as ongoing weekly protests in the neighborhood. The protests halted further evictions for a time, but about six months ago, another family was evicted.

The Sabbaghs have been fighting eviction proceedings since 2008. In November, the Supreme Court rejected their final appeal, which sought to reopen the question of whether the original Jewish owners actually owned the land, based on documents the Sabbaghs’ lawyer obtained from Ottoman archives in Turkey. Justices Daphne Barak-Erez, Yael Willner and Alex Stein refused to even discuss the substance of this claim, saying it was made too belatedly, given that the land was registered in Nahalat Shimon’s name 15 years ago.

File photo: Homes in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Emil Salman

The Sabbaghs then asked Supreme Court President Esther Hayut to rehear the case, including the land ownership issue, with an expanded panel of justices. But on Thursday, Hayut turned down this request, saying the original ruling contained no legal innovation or anything else that would justify a rehearing.

Hayut’s decision is expected to pave the way not just for the Sabbaghs’ eviction, but also for the eviction of many other families in the neighborhood. The Sabbaghs were thought to have the best chance of winning a court case, given the documents they had obtained.

“Once again, families from Sheikh Jarrah are facing eviction and a second refugeehood,” said the family’s lawyer, Sami Ersheid. “In Israeli courts, which refrain from hearing the residents’ just and substantive arguments, people are sentenced to refugeehood on procedural grounds.”

The eviction is “the first practical result of the Supreme Court’s decisions, which have effectively allowed Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan’s Batan al-Hawa to be emptied of its residents,” added Eyal Raz, a left-wing activist who has been helping the Sabbaghs, referring to another East Jerusalem neighborhood. “This is move with enormously destructive ramifications, which should and still can be stopped.”