The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court has ordered that the case of a Palestinian family facing immediate eviction in the East Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood be reheard, a process that will delay any possible eviction by at least two months.
The eviction of the Salem family is being sought by a Jewish Jerusalem city councilman who recently purchased the family’s home and is seeking to evict them. The home, in which the Salem family has been living since 1950, has been at the center of controversy in Sheikh Jarrah in recent months.
Police are concerned that it could reignite tensions in the neighborhood and in East Jerusalem as a whole. Tensions in Sheikh Jarrah over the eviction of Palestinians preceded the firing of rockets at Jerusalem by Hamas in May of last year, leading to full-scale war between Israel and Gaza.
Far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir (Religious Zionism) set up a makeshift temporary office next to the home two and a half months ago. The home of the only Jewish family in the immediate vicinity was firebombed, and clashes broke out there nearly every evening for a number of weeks between right-wing Jewish activists and Palestinians.
The house where they are living belonged to Jews before the 1948 War of Independence, and the Salems leased the house from the Jordanian custodian of enemy property back in 1951, before it was returned to the heirs of the original Jewish residents by the Israeli Custodian General in 1967. It was recently purchased by Yonatan Yosef, a right-wing member of the Jerusalem city council, who revived an eviction action against the Salem family that had initially been filed in the 1980s.
The Salem family’s eviction had been scheduled to be carried out prior to the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but it was deferred in part at the request of the police, who were concerned that it would increase tensions and violence in Jerusalem.
In the meantime, the family filed a request for permission to appeal a decision by the registrar in the office that carries out eviction orders to go through with the eviction. The family’s primary argument is that the original eviction order against them from 1988 had lapsed. Since then, owners of the property had taken almost no steps to evict the family.
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The initial court records in the earlier eviction case were destroyed, and the recent court decision to evict the family was based on a notarized document confirming that an earlier eviction order had been granted. The family’s lawyer, Majed Ghanayem, has claimed, however, that even the notary acknowledged that he did not have the eviction order in front of him when he signed the notarized statement.
Ghanayem is also basing the appeal on the argument that following eviction action from the 1980s, the family and the owner of the house at the time entered into a new agreement permitting the Salems to live there. At a court hearing in the case in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Monday, Yonatan Yosef’s lawyer, Avraham Moshe Segal, said that these claims had been considered at rejected by the registrar, Idit Gur-Aryeh.
At the hearing, Segal called the request to appeal “an attempt at foot-dragging and a significant trampling” of Yosef’s property rights. Yosef has been suffering “ongoing and unceasing abuse” in addition to a lack of good faith on the part of the Salem family, he told the court.
But Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Gad Ehrenberg ruled that the registrar had made her decision without holding a comprehensive hearing on the Salem family’s claims. He ordered the case returned to the registrar for further consideration of the request to appeal and Yosef’s response. As a practical matter, that will defer any actual eviction of the Salem family.
In a related development in a case involving three Palestinian families in another part of Sheikh Jarrah, representatives of those seeking to settle Jews in the properties have now asked for an expanded panel of Supreme Court justices to reconsider the case in a bid to overturn a prior ruling barring the eviction of Palestinian families there.