JERUSALEM – A long campaign by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem is still underway, even after fueling weeks of unrest and helping spark an 11-day war in Gaza.
An intervention by Israel’s attorney general at the height of the unrest suspended the most imminent expulsions. But human rights groups say the deportations could still take place in the months to come as international attention wanes, potentially triggering another round of bloodshed.
The settlers waged a decades-long campaign to evict families from the densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods of the so-called sacred basin just outside the walls of the Old City, in one of East Jerusalem’s most sensitive neighborhoods.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, which is home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, during the 1967 war and annexed it in a move unrecognized internationally. Israel sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The settlers use a 1970 law that allows Jews to reclaim property lost during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel, a right denied to Palestinians who lost property in the same conflict, including Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Israeli rights group Ir Amim, which closely follows the various court cases, estimates that at least 150 households in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods have received eviction notices and are in various stages of a long judicial process.
The plight of four extended families comprising six households in Sheikh Jarrah, who faced imminent eviction, sparked protests that eventually merged with protests against policing at a holy flashpoint. After warning Israel to stop the evictions and withdraw from the site, Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem on May 10, sparking heavy fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza.
As tensions mounted, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit obtained a postponement of the final hearing in the case of the four families. Another group of families requested that the Attorney General also intervene in their cases, thus obtaining a delay. The Israelis are currently trying to form a new government, adding even more uncertainty to the process.
This saved the families time, but nothing was resolved.
“Everything is at stake,” said Amy Cohen, spokesperson for Ir Amim. Rights activists fear Israel will proceed with the deportations once the fury subsides and international attention turns elsewhere.
“We are talking about over 1,000 Palestinians in these two areas who are at risk of massive displacement,” Cohen said. “Because these measures are taking place in such a gradual fashion, it is so much easier to fire them. “
Sheikh Jarrah’s families are stuck in limbo. In total, at least 65 families in two neighborhoods of the neighborhood are threatened with eviction, according to Ir Amim, including a group of families who are due to be evicted in August.
Banners are hung on the streets in Sheikh Jarrah, and occasional small demonstrations are still held there. Police set up checkpoints at each end of the road and watch Jewish settlers – who seized one of the houses in 2009 – come and go.
The settlers say they acquired the land from the Jews who owned it before the 1948 war, when Jordan captured what is now East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Jordan settled several Palestinian families on the land in the early 1950s after fleeing what is now Israel during the 1948 war. Settlers began trying to evict them soon after the capture of the West Bank and Jerusalem -Is by Israel in the 1967 war.
For Palestinians, the expulsions bring up bitter memories of what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of the creation of Israel, when some 700,000 Palestinians – a majority of the population – fled or were driven out of Israel. their homes as a new state fought five Arab armies. Most ended up in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring countries.
“It’s not just about Sheikh Jarrah, it’s about the entire Israeli occupation, that’s the problem. They’re not going to stop there,” said Saleh al-Diab, who was born, said. grew up, married and raised her own children. in one of the threatened houses of Sheikh Jarrah.
“You lose your house to them in 1948, then they come back after 1967 and take your house back,” he said.
Yaakov Fauci, a settler from Long Island, New York, who rose to Internet fame after a widely circulated video shows a Palestinian resident berating him for robbing his home, says the Palestinians are squatting on private property.
“They’ve lived here since 1956. It’s not exactly ancestral land that dates back to the time of Abraham,” he said. Fauci says he is a tenant and has no personal involvement in the dispute, but he insists the land belongs to the Jewish people.
“We don’t want to cause them pain and suffering, but we have to get our land back,” he said. “If there are people there, unfortunately they have to come out.”
Ir Amim estimates that settler organizations have already evicted 10 families in Sheikh Jarrah and at least 74 families in Silwan, a few kilometers away, in recent decades.
The Israeli government and a settler organization that market properties in Sheikh Jarrah did not respond to requests for comment. Israel has previously said the evictions were a private real estate dispute and accused Hamas of seizing on the issue to incite violence.
The settler movement enjoys strong support from the Israeli government and the right-wing parties that dominate Israeli politics. The settlers benefited from Israeli policies dating back to 1967 which encouraged the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem while severely limiting the growth of Palestinian communities.
Today, more than 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the two territories, mostly in towns and residential areas. Palestinians and much of the international community view the settlements as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace.
Ir Amim says Israeli authorities could intervene in several ways to prevent evictions from Jerusalem, including changing the law that allows settlers to take over these properties.
Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, demanded that Israel restrain the settlers as part of the informal truce brokered by Egypt that ended the war in Gaza. Egyptian mediators are exploring ways to prevent evictions, and previous ceasefires have included significant concessions to Hamas.