Sheikh Jarrah residents speak out on Israel’s forced expulsions

Israeli court’s delay of its ruling on the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood is a momentary victory.

A Palestinian woman is manhandled by an Israeli policeman in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem [Mahmoud Illean/AP]

Sheikh Jarrah, occupied East Jerusalem – Israel’s high court has postponed a ruling on the forced expulsion of four Palestinian families here after a violent crackdown on protests and prayer by Israeli security forces.

It was a significant walkdown from the years-long threat to seize Palestinian properties and hand them over to Israeli settlers. But it took mass protests and a ferocious Israeli response to make it happen.

The court’s decision on Sunday to delay the ruling was a momentary victory for the residents of Sheikh Jarrah and the tireless demonstrators who arrive in the neighbourhood in the evening and stay well past midnight, chanting against Israel’s occupation.

Muhammad al-Kurd, one of the residents threatened with evictions, called for the protests to continue. He urged supporters not to relent and instead “intensify efforts and presence in Sheikh Jarrah”.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, settlers launched legal battles to take over the area [Ibrahim Husseini/Al Jazeera]

Advocate Husni Abu Hussein – a member of the legal team representing the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah – told Al Jazeera he was “confident that popular resistance has influenced the Israeli government to delay the legal proceedings”.

On Sunday, the lawyers submitted a request to the court to invite Israel’s Attorney General Avichai  Mandleblit to explain an anomaly in which the land’s ownership had apparently been transferred to a settler group in 1972, allowing the settlers to illegally register the land in their names.

In response to the defence’s request, Mandleblit asked for 14 days to consider a reply and see whether the government would agree to become part of the ongoing case between the settlers and the Palestinian residents.

The court readily agreed to Mandelbilt’s request, cancelled Monday’s verdict, and said a new court date would be announced in 30 days.

The defence argued the Israeli government should honour the Jordanian government’s commitment to Palestinian residents made during its reign of Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, and compensate the settler groups.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, settler groups launched legal battles to take over the area, claiming the land was Jewish property lost in the 1948 war.

Forty-three Palestinians were forced out of Sheikh Jarrah in 2002 and others again in 2008 and 2017, their homes taken over by Israeli settlers.

Nabil al-Kurd, 77, has lived in Sheikh Jarrah since 1956 [Ibrahim Husseini/Al Jazeera]

‘Saw settlers take my home’

The al-Kurd family is one of four families that were threatened with forced expulsion on Sunday.

Nabil al-Kurd, 77, has lived in this neighbourhood since 1956 – on land provided by the Jordanian government to UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.

Nabil’s father, Sa’eed, lived in Haifa until Israel expelled him and his family in 1948. They eventually made it to East Jerusalem and were fortunate to have been included in a housing project for refugees.

In 2009, an Israeli court partitioned Nabil’s home and gave part of it to Jewish settlers.

“I grew up in this house and saw settlers take my home,” Muna, Nabil’s daughter, told Al Jazeera.

Despite the dire legal situation, Nabil draws optimism from the solid public showing of Palestinian supporters over the past weeks in East Jerusalem.

“This spark is widening,” he said about the nightly protests against the settlers’ takeover plans. “It is no longer restrained to Sheikh Jarrah.”

At the beginning of Ramadan, Palestinians protested, successfully, for the removal of Israeli police restrictions on Damascus Gate, which Israeli police sealed off to prevent Israeli and Palestinian crowds from potentially meeting, which could result in violence.

Far-right Israelis had been harassing Palestinians during marches while chanting “death to Arabs”.

“It started in Bab al-Amoud [Damascus Gate] and then came here and then it went to Al Aqsa,” said Nabil.

Restrictions and harassment culminated on Monday as Israeli security forces violently stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, with snipers gunning down Palestinians with rubber-coated steel rounds and troops chasing and beating others.

Some worshippers were attacked during morning prayers. Hundreds of Palestinians were wounded.

Abdel Fattah Iskafi was six years old when his parents moved to Sheikh Jarrah in 1956 [Ibrahim Husseini/Al Jazeera]

‘A new Nakba’

The four Palestinian families – al-Kurd, Iskafi, al-Qasem and al-Jaouni – have rejected a proposal from settler groups to sign a lease that would allow them to continue to live on the property until the time the residents pass away. They say the fight with the Israeli settlers over Sheikh Jarrah is not a legal one but political.

Abdel Fattah Iskafi, 71, is also under the threat of forced removal from his home. His parents were refugees from Baqaa in West Jerusalem.

Iskafi was six years old when his parents moved to Sheikh Jarrah in 1956. It has been home ever since.

“This is going to be a new Nakba [catastrophe] if they expel us,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to the day in 1948 when the state of Israel was declared.

Between 1947 and 1949, about 750,000 Palestinians out of a population of 1.9 million were expelled from their towns and villages to make way for new Jewish immigrants.

Muna al-Kurd, 23, has long been an advocate highlighting the plight of Sheikh Jarrah’s residents and is the beating heart of the neighbourhood. “I’ve been talking about our ordeal since I was 12,” she said.

Muna took to social media to spread awareness about the planned forced expulsions and three months ago, with the help of friends, the Save Sheikh Jarrah campaign was launched.

“The size of the global solidarity has angered the [Israeli] government of the occupation and the crackdown has increased,” said Muna, denouncing “the occupation’s justice system” for failing Palestinians.

“I believe in popular resistance,” she said defiantly.

Muna al-Kurd, 23, has long worked to highlight the plight of Sheikh Jarrah’s residents [Ibrahim Husseini/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera