A group of residents of the East Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood rejected a compromise on Tuesday that had been proposed by Israel's Supreme Court. The plan would have allowed them to remain in their homes for at least 15 years, in exchange for recognizing the ownership interests of a settler group to which they would have paid nominal rent.
Due to their rejection of the offer, the justices will have to reconsider the Palestinian residents' appeal of the original eviction order. The Palestinians lost their case before the magistrate and district courts and their appeal to the Supreme Court requires the high court to grant them permission for a second appeal.
Nahalot Shimon, the settlement group with a claim to the land, has also submitted its response to the Supreme Court, but the group's stance has not yet been made public. There has been growing friction recently between residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood who favored accepting the offer and those who preferred to reject it.
"We're under huge pressure," one of the residents facing eviction said. "We aren't sleeping and don't want to battle with everything around us. The talk is that if you've paid the settlers, then you are a traitor and that's it. You're finished. So in the end, we refused the offer."
At a press conference on Tuesday, Muna El Kurd, one of the leaders of the residents' legal battle, read a statement saying, "We have unanimously rejected the arrangement proposed by the occupation court," which the statement said would have "paved the way for the expropriation of the rights to our lands."
El Kurd added that the rejection comes from “our belief in the justice of our cause and our right to our homes and our homeland.” She said that the residents would put their faith in the “Palestinian street” to raise international awareness of their plight.
Under the proposal, the three families facing eviction 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.
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The proposal by Justices Isaac Amit, Noam Sohlberg and Daphne Barak-Erez also would require the families to 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 compromise deal came amid a bitter legal dispute that has attracted worldwide attention over Palestinian rights in the city. It played a role in sparking riots in East Jerusalem last May that were followed by rocket fire on Jerusalem from Gaza and a war between Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza.
If accepted, the justices’ plan would have spared Israel any fallout arising from an eviction order, but the compromise faced 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 Supreme Court case relates to three families, but is expected to affect all 13 Palestinian families who are vulnerable to eviction. The families were settled in the Jerusalem neighborhood in 1956 by the Jordanian government and the United Nations; settlement organizations have been requesting their eviction for the past two decades, claiming that the land their homes were built on has been owned by Jews since the end of the 19th century.
Nahalat Shimon’s claim goes back to 1876, when Ashkenazi Jews bought a plot of land near the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, a Jewish high priest from ancient times. A small Jewish neighborhood was founded on part of the land. They were driven out of the area during the Jordanian occupation in 1948.
Magistrate's and district courts ruled in favor of Nahalat Shimon, and the three families were evicted from their homes. The fight against the eviction of the Palestinians has stirred controversy across the globe, attracting the attention of the U.S. Congress, European diplomats and the dozens of media crews that have been present for the court hearings. The justices proposed the compromise after both sides failed to reach an agreement at the prior hearing.
If the Palestinian families had accepted the compromise, their eviction would have dropped from the agenda for many years. They still retain the possibility of trying to prove their ownership rights to the land in the future through the Land Settlement Office of the Justice Ministry.
In their statement, the families opposing the compromise accused the court of "evading it responsibility to rule" on the case by proposing a compromise that the families said requires the residents to choose between being uprooted or consenting to "an unjust agreement." In the process, the families said, the court was expanding occupation policies aimed at splintering Palestinian social solidarity. "We won't make do with half-solutions," the statement added.