In an attempt to replace Palestinians with Jewish settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, an Israeli court has ordered at least a dozen families to hand over their homes in occupied East Jerusalem.
“Jakob, you know this is not your home,” Mona al Kurd, a Palestinian woman was captured saying in a video widely circulated online where she confronts an Israeli settler occupying her house.
“Yes,” Jakob confirms. “But if I go, you don’t go back (too),” he says. He doesn’t accept any responsibility for taking over the Palestinian family’s house, because he says it wasn’t he who decided to do so.
“You’re stealing my house!” Kurd responds in frustration.
“If I don’t steal it, then someone else is gonna steal it,” he says.
In October, an Israeli district court in Jerusalem ruled that at least 12 Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem must give up their homes for Israeli settlers to take over, as well as pay for their expenses.
Sit-ins and protests took over the neighbourhood after the court denied the Palestinian families’ appeal against the decision in March. The court asked around 50 people to evacuate by May 2, and around 70 of the neighbourhood’s residents will face eviction this August, the Palestinian news agency WAFA says.
Having lived in these homes for decades, Palestinians have been resisting the decisions as Jewish settlers and police show up to force them out. For them, the decision is a continuation of Israel’s policy that began with the Nakba, “the Catastrophe”, in 1948, when thousands of Palestinians were displaced and expelled from their homes.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the homes are situated within a complex known as the "Tomb of Simeon the Just" where a high priest is buried. The court states that the current residents (Palestinians) have failed to pay the required rent for several years and have not disproved "the claims of the Jewish Israelis to the property".
The Israeli court gave the families an extra two days to reach an agreement, giving them until March 4, but that proved impossible. Israeli forces last night raided homes in Sheikh Jarrah, tear gassed residents, including the elderly, inside their homes. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers attacked residents who were demonstrating against the forced evictions. Ten Palestinians were injured and three were hospitalised.
In the past, many Palestinians who were evicted because of Israel's settlement policies pitched tents in desperation, but those were also raided and demolished by Israeli officials.
Israel’s eviction crackdown is based on a policy that was set in stone in the Israeli parliament in 1970. After the mass displacement of 1948, only 37 Palestinian families in 27 homes were placed in the neighbourhood by the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR under an agreement with Jordan's government.
At the time East Jerusalem was under the mandate of Jordan, but Israel has since occupied and annexed the area.
Jewish settlers claim that the land belongs to them, and want to expand settlements to the whole of East Jerusalem, where Palestinians live. Under international law, Israeli settlements are deemed illegal and are widely denounced.
Kurd’s family is among those who have been asked to hand over their home to Jewish settlers within Israel’s plan to replace Palestinians with Israelis. The family already lost half of their properties to settlers back in 2009.
Sharing the house with “squatters with Brooklyn accents”, who partially occupied their home when he was 11, has been “insufferable, intolerable and terrible,” Mona Kurd’s twin brother Mohamed said.
“They are just sitting in our home, tormenting us, harassing us, doing everything they can to not only force us to leave the second half of hour home but also harassing our neighbours into leaving their homes as part of an effort to completely annihilate the presence of Palestinians from Jerusalem,” he said.
“We need to always constantly remind people that this is not just some poor Palestinian family [who] for some weird legal reason [is] losing their property. This is [about] hundreds of thousands of Palestinians all around Jerusalem and neighbouring cities – Palestine at large – who are facing the vicious fangs of a judicial system designed inherently to displace them,” he said.
In a letter sent on Monday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al Maliki called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take a clear and public stand against Israel’s actions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
The United Nations also said in March that it is concerned “at any efforts to change the demographic composition of these areas. It has made those concerns transparent and will stay firm on that position by following the issue at the UN Security Council.
Human rights organisations also condemned forced evacuations.
Jewish Voice for Peace, an Israeli human rights organisation, has declared its support for Palestinian families.