The Jordanian government had taken substantive steps to transfer ownership to Palestinians of contentious properties in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, but the Six-Day War cut the process short, according to documents submitted by families subject to eviction orders ahead of a hearing scheduled for Monday at the Supreme Court.
At Monday’s hearing the court will hear a petition for leave to appeal filed by four of the families against orders evicting them from their houses for the benefit of a settlers’ association, after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decided in June not to intervene in the case.
This is the last chance the families have to prevent the eviction; a rejection of their petition could influence the situation faced by nine other families in similar circumstances and result in the eviction of several dozen Palestinian families from the neighborhood.
Recent months have seen tensions rise over the eviction orders; over the weekend, Israelis and Palestinians gathered in Sheikh Jarrah to demonstrate ahead of Monday’s hearing.
Nahalat Shimon, a company that acquired the interests of Jewish families who lived in the neighborhood prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948, is demanding the eviction of the families because the houses were built on land purchased by Jews in the late 19th century. The houses were built by the Jordanian government and the United Nations in the 1950s to house Palestinian refugees following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. To do so, the Jordanian official in charge of enemy property allocated the land to the Jordanian Housing Ministry.
Until now, it was known, among other things from the agreement between the residents and the Jordanian government, that the latter had intended to give the residents the rights to the land. The new documents submitted to the Supreme Court by the petitioners’ counsel, Advs. Sami Arshid and Salah Abu Hussein, indicate that the Jordanians had taken substantive steps to transfer ownership to the residents, and that the process was nearing completion. But when the Six-Day War broke out in 1967 and East Jerusalem was occupied, all land registration procedures were discontinued.
The documents show that in March 1967, three months before the war, the residents of Sheikh Jarrah received notice to wait in their homes for the arrival of the official in charge of land surveys so that the government could register the land in their name. A month later, the Jordanian settlement official wrote to the Jordanian Land Authority that the survey procedure had been completed and that the registration of the land should be carried out.
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According to Adv. Arshid, "the documents reveal that if not for the war, the properties would have been registered in the name of the residents by the Jordanian government and therefore it is the obligation of the State of Israel to recognize this ownership, to stop the saga that represents the conflict in Sheikh Jarrah as if it were a civil dispute, when it is the state that is creating the situation whereby the Palestinians are dispossessed for the benefit of a company registered to an unnamed American owner, granted properties to which it has no right, in order to establish a new settlement there.”
The documents are supported by an opinion issued by a former senior official in the Military Advocate General's office in the West Bank, which provides that based on the documents, it may be concluded that the eviction of the Palestinians from their homes is illegal. Dr. Ronit Levine-Schnur, who held the rank of major and served as assistant to the Civil Administration legal adviser, wrote in the opinion that “There can be no doubt that if it not were for the external intervention stemming from political changes in the area, the procedure to settle [their rights over the property] would have been completed and the residents would have been registered as the landowners in keeping with the explicit and governmental commitments to them.”
Levine-Schnur said that based on the British Mandate Law, which applies to both Israel and Jordan, the Commissioner of Enemy Properties may sell assets in its possession for public purposes. The British Mandate government did this with German property after World War II, as did the Israeli government.
According to Levine-Schnur, Israeli law and judicial precedent stipulate that the Israeli government is obligated to continue the process begun by the Jordanians and give the Palestinian residents rights to their homes. “The fact that the Israeli government left the residents to their own devices during this process is a breach of the obligations imposed on it under Israeli public and private law,” she told Haaretz. She explained that there being “no justification for this abandonment” led her to propose that the attorney general freeze legal proceedings and the eviction until the registration procedures draw to a close.