The four families threatened with eviction from their homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Tuesday announced they have rejected a High Court of Justice compromise to solve their property dispute with the Jewish-owned Nahalat Shimon Company.
The four families – al-Jaouni, al-Kurd, Qassem and Iskafi – were supposed to present their response to the compromise by Tuesday.
Hours before the expiration of the deadline, however, Palestinian sources said seven other families also threatened with eviction in Sheikh Jarrah had accepted the compromise, according to which they would be recognized as “protected tenants.”
The reports about the agreement of the seven families to the compromise, which appeared in several Palestinian media outlets, sparked a public outcry among the Palestinians. Several unnamed parties had advised the families to accept the compromise, according to the reports.
Officials from the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah faction criticized the compromise and called on the families to reject it. Last week, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh urged the Sheikh Jarrah families to reject the compromise.
Following the outcry, a statement issued by the families said the compromise had been rejected.
“We rejected the proposal by the Israeli Supreme Court, which would have rendered us protected tenants at the mercy of the Nahalat Shimon settler organization,” the statement said. The compromise “paves the way for a gradual confiscation of our right to our lands,” it said.
The Israeli judiciary “is circumventing its duty to adjudicate the case and is forcing us instead to choose between our own dispossession or submitting to an oppressive agreement,” the statement said.
The Israeli government is “fully responsible for stealing our homes,” it said.
Aref Hammad, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah who said he was speaking on behalf of all the Palestinian families who face eviction in his neighborhood, told reporters they had not come under pressure to turn down the High Court’s proposal.
“This was our own decision, and we don’t allow anyone to put pressure on us,” he said.
A group called the National and Islamic Forces in Jerusalem warned that the compromise “carries serious political and legal risks that would confirm Nahalat Shimon’s ownership of the lands and houses in Sheikh Jarrah.”
It also warned that accepting the compromise would set a “dangerous precedent, which will impact other neighborhoods in Jerusalem.”
The PA Jerusalem Affairs Ministry said the Sheikh Jarrah case is a purely political issue.
“The occupation courts are only a tool in the service of the Israeli government to implement its schemes in the State of Palestine in general and the occupied city of Jerusalem in particular,” it said in a statement.
Ahmed Rwaidy, a senior PA official, arrived in Sheikh Jarrah and announced his strong opposition to the compromise.
“We reject all Israeli measures and any offer presented to the families of Sheikh Jarrah by the occupation because of the dangerous national repercussions,” he said. “The occupation wants to drag us to its courts.”
Senior Fatah officials Hatem Abdel Qader and Shadi Mtour also rejected the compromise and urged the families to follow suit.
The High Court last month had proposed a compromise by which the four families could remain in their homes for a 15-year period, but only if they stipulated that they had the status of protected tenants and were not the landowners of the property. It’s a move, however, that would solely be for the purposes of the deal and would not prejudice their ability to pursue land ownership claims before the High Court.
The case of the four families is expected to set the precedent for the fate of another 24 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah that are also in a legal battle with the Nahalat Shimon company. Two lower courts have upheld its claim to be the current owners of land in that neighborhood, also known as Shimon Hatzadik, which had belonged to Jews before they were forced to flee during the 1948 War of Independence.
The 28 Palestinians who claim ownership to the land settled in that neighborhood after they too fled their homes during that same 1948 war. Jordan which controlled east Jerusalem from 1948-1967 made a deal with the families to exchange their refugee status for land ownership.
But the property was never formally registered in their name. Once Israel gained control of the neighborhood in the aftermath of the 1967 war, the families could no longer register the property and found themselves in a protracted legal battle. They appealed to the High Court after two lower courts ruled in favor of the Nahalat Shimon company. Last month the judges said that they too would rule immediately on the case, should the families reject the compromise proposal.