Analysis: Tensions run high in court over Sheikh Jarrah evictions

Palestinian bitterness extends not only to the right-wing organizations but to the state and its institutions.

The court hearing Wednesday on the petitions by the sons of the Hanoun and Ghawi families of Jerusalem's Shiekh Jarrah neighborhood was not much in the way of a legal battle. But it served as a perfect model of the increasing bitterness between the city's Palestinian residents and the right-wing groups which seek to establish as large a presence as possible in their midst. Palestinian bitterness extends not only to the right-wing organizations but to the state and its institutions, which the Palestinians perceive as supporting these groups. The story of the area now called Shimon Hatzadik in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah goes back more than 100 years, to when the land was purchased by two Jewish organizations in 1885. Today, the land is recognized by the state as being owned by the two organizations. However, during the Jordanian occupation, Palestinian refugees who had lost their homes in the Israeli part of Jerusalem took up residence and have been living there ever since. In 1998, a Jerusalem court ruled that the two families were to be evicted from their homes and the land restored to its Jewish owners. Since then, a large number of hearings in all the courts, from Magistrate's Court to the Supreme Court, have upheld the original ruling, and the families were even evicted once before (and then returned). What made Wednesday's hearing exceptional was the extent of the bitterness and ill-feeling between the two parties to the dispute. It is very rare to find such raw, almost uncontrolled, emotions in court. It is obvious that the petitioners from the Hanoun and Ghawi families would be angry. They do not understand or care about the legal technicalities of the case. All they know is that the Jews are forcing them out of the homes they have lived in for most or all of their lives. Their lawyers, Saleh Abu Hussein, from Umm el-Fahm, and Hatem Abu-Ahmad, from Jerusalem, were just as angry. While the lawyer for the Committee of the Sephardic Community in Jerusalem was questioning witnesses, Abu-Hussein and Abu-Ahmed interrupted him time and time again, raising their hands and shouting. The judge, Shirley Renner, had to repeatedly call them to order. The Jewish lawyer, for his part, while arguing his case in a correct manner, appeared to assume an undertone of mockery and disregard, perhaps because of the unconventional behavior of the other lawyers, or maybe because he sensed their frustration and basic helplessness. At one point in the hearing, the lawyer for the landowners read out a list of names to one of the witnesses and asked him if they were Palestinians. The witness, not particularly interested in cooperating, shrugged his shoulders and said he did not know, even though the names were obviously Arab names. Then the lawyer read out the next name and said, in that same tone of voice. "This one you will be able to tell. The name is Abu-Humus." Friendly banter? Maybe. But it sounded like something else. The low point of this unusual hearing came when Aryeh King, a right-wing leader in the fight to build Jewish housing projects in east Jerusalem, said something to Abu-Ahmed. The lawyer, enraged, stood up, walked towards King and told him he would not tolerate King shouting at him any more. King stood up and marched up to Abu-Ahmed. For a moment, it looked like a brawl would erupt in the middle of the courtroom. Somehow, the two were separated and the hearing limped to a conclusion.