East Jerusalem

Sheikh Jarrah family faces eviction to benefit settlers

The Palestinian family fought for years in Israeli court to keep the home where they have lived since 1964.

Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah marched with Israeli activists to protest against the eviction of the Shamasne family from their East Jerusalem home [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]

Sheikh Jarrah, Occupied East Jerusalem - At the Shamasne family's basement home in Sheikh Jarrah, days before a final deadline to evacuate the property, there was no sign that the occupants intended to leave.

Dozens of ceramic teacups and bowls filled the kitchen cupboards, and the fridge was well stocked.

"I will not evacuate voluntarily," said Mohammed Shamasne, a 45-year-old Palestinian who has resided in this home in occupied East Jerusalem his whole life. His parents first moved into the house in 1964, and they still live there, along with Mohammed, his wife and four children.

The Israeli high court has ruled that the family must evacuate the home before August 9, but Mohammed said his family would not hand over the keys voluntarily and would have to be forcibly removed.

"The government has not made any offers of alternative housing," he told Al Jazeera. "They don't care what happens to me. They will take us and throw us in the street."

READ MORE: Palestinians in East Jerusalem battle for their homes

When the Shamasne family first moved here in the 1960s, East Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan, and they paid a monthly rent to Jordanian authorities. Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, the Shamasne family has paid their rent to Israel's general custodian in order to remain in the building.

The family said that in 2009, their payments were suddenly rejected, and they were informed that the property had been claimed by Israeli Jews whose ancestors had lived there decades previously.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Jordan took control of East Jerusalem and thousands of Jews fled that half of the city. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families fled or were expelled from the territory that would become Israel, before settling in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and elsewhere.

'They don't care what happens to me. They will take us and throw us in the street' [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera] 

Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove ownership of property in East Jerusalem before 1948 are able to reclaim properties from the Israeli general custodian. There is no equivalent law for Palestinians who owned property before 1948 in West Jerusalem or other areas that became Israel.

The Shamasne family appealed against the 2009 decision and their case was eventually rejected by the Israeli high court in 2013, paving the way for their eviction. For four years, they were allowed to stay in the home - but just last month, they received a final eviction notice.

"When we went through the Israeli judicial system, we knew they were not fair and that they were biased towards the Israelis, but we had to take this step," said Mohammed. "After we lost the case in 2013, there were no more legal avenues for us."

At a recent demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, organised to raise awareness about the Shamasne case, dozens of Israeli activists and local residents called for the eviction order to be cancelled and decried the government's support for Jewish-only settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Mohammed led the group in a march around the neighbourhood to the sound of drumming and anti-occupation chants.

Nasser Ghawi, who was himself evicted in the most recent wave of evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in 2009, joined the crowd to show solidarity with the Shamasne family.

"I don't believe there is anybody in the [Israeli] state who does not want to Judaise the state," Ghawi told Al Jazeera. "I don't think that anything can stop the evacuation. The settlers are like wolves and they want to eat everything in Sheikh Jarrah.

"Maybe [the evictions] will stop if Israel can understand our right to be in East Jerusalem, because, as the whole world knows, East Jerusalem is the Palestinian capital," he added. "So what peace are they talking about if they don't want a Palestinian community in East Jerusalem?"

READ MORE: Why Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel

Close to Jerusalem's Old City and home to important historic and religious sites, Sheikh Jarrah has a strategic importance and would be strongly contested in any future peace negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.

According to the Israeli NGO Peace Now, the Shamasne eviction is part of a wider government process to establish settlements in the Palestinian neighbourhood and create obstacles to a future compromise on the status of Jerusalem.

In July, a number of settlement-building projects in Sheikh Jarrah were advanced by the Jerusalem building committee, including plans to build a six-storey Jewish religious school and dormitories for the students. Of the four separate plans that were approved for the neighbourhood, two would require the demolition of buildings that are currently home to five Palestinian families, according to Israeli rights group Ir Amim.

"Given how inflammatory it is for settlers to be moving directly into the hearts of Palestinian neighbourhoods, the rash of recent plans in Sheikh Jarrah could not be more problematic," said Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim.

"The new plans will displace Palestinians to accommodate masses of Jewish students and their teachers, imposing a major piece of architecture at the entrance to their neighbourhood that virtually screams 'This is ours,'" she added.

Source: Al Jazeera