For Jews, Jerusalem is its historic capital. Muslims also claim it for the third holiest site in Islam, containing the 35 acre Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif), including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
The 1947 UN Partition Plan designated Jerusalem an international city under a UN Trusteeship Council. After Israel's 1947-48 War of Independence, it was divided between Israel and Jordan, and during Israel's 1967 Six-Day War, East Jerusalem was captured and occupied, its current status today.
In March 2009, a confidential EU report (now public) accused Israel of using settlement expansions, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies, restrictive permits, closing Palestinian institutions, the West Bank Separation Wall, and various other ways to "actively pursu(e) the illegal annexation" of East Jerusalem and "increase Jewish presence" in the city.
In a December 2009 report, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel affirmed the EU report's concerns. Titled "Dispossession and Eviction in Jerusalem," it provides historical context, a legal overview, and case study examples in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood between the Old City and Mount Scopus.
The community "has become the site of a protracted legal battle whose implications range from the evictions of more than 25 families to the visibility of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and the" ultimate status of Jerusalem.
Four families have already been evicted from homes they've lived in for over 50 years. The others are awaiting court appearances and rulings to decide their fate, nearly certain given Israel's history of judicial unfairness toward Arabs, including its own citizens having no rights in a nation affording them solely to Jews.
Since the 1970s, Israeli settlers have targeted Sheikh Jarrah, seeking control of property they claim Jews owned before 1948 as a way to increase Jewish residency in "strategically located" parts of East Jerusalem. Specific areas include the Shepherd Hotel compound, the Karm Al-Mufti olive grove, and Karm Al-Ja'ouni, but Sheikh Jarrah in its entirety demonstrates the futility of decades of legal battles and "an inherent legislative bias that renders adherence to international legal standards ineffectual."
In 1956, three UNWRA-Jordanian agreements promised 28 families Sheikh Jarrah property deeds they never got. One let them lease the land as refugees. The second agreed to fund their homes, and the third stipulated that "in exchange for nominal rent payments (and other provisions), the families would lease (them) for three years," after which they'd have legal title. Despite adhering to contract terms, they never got it.
After the 1956 Six-Day War, the Israeli General Custodian controlled Sheikh Jarrah. Then in 1972, the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Israel Committee (both religious and ideological) sought ownership rights, based on a historical and religious affiliation during the Ottoman era, using "koshan," a legal title as the basis of their claim, dating from the early 19th century, then finalized in 1886.
The "koshan's" validity is central to the current claim and legal challenges to decide who has rightful ownership. But according to expert testimonies, the document's authenticity is in doubt as they don't conform to Ottoman era criteria, so therein lies the rub.
Further, according to the Israeli Land Registry Office, the "koshan" doesn't bear on the rights of parties already inhabiting the land and isn't proof of ownership. Nonetheless, 23 Palestinian families were ordered to pay rent. Legal challenges followed, so it's for the courts to decide who owns the land rightfully.
Earlier in 1982, a protracted legal battle began after the Committees jointly sued 23 of the families. At the time, it was resolved by granting the validity of the Committees' claim while giving the families "protected tenant" status, removing the threat of eviction provided they paid rent regularly and refrained from renovating or changing the property. The case became a modern precedent for settling Karm Al-Ja'ouni neighborhood disputes, but it failed to address the legitimacy of the Committees' claim or the consent of the other 17 families.
The agreement became the legal basis for subsequent court-ordered evictions and "rendered....inquiries into the legitimacy of the Committees ownership claims redundant from a domestic legal perspective."
Here's the problem. The four evicted families deny ever consenting, their lawyer acting on his own for settlement, yet what he achieved "diverged greatly" from his clients' wishes. The families remain steadfast, saying they were misrepresented, kept uninformed, and maintain the homes are theirs, based on the UNRWA-Jordanian agreement.
In addition, the 1982 court decision stipulated that the settlement may be challenged if clear proof shows it was reached on false grounds. Perhaps so as the affected families got no additional benefits beyond their undisputed rights.
"Protected tenancy" derives from the 1972 Tenant Protection Law, protecting against East Jerusalem evictions under Israeli law. Nonetheless, the settlement became the legal standard for subsequent confrontations over ownership claims.
Numerous legal actions followed without resolution, despite the "koshan's" uncertain authenticity based on a 19th century Ottoman document. However, the Committees have prevailed so far, not the families, four already evicted, the others very much in jeopardy. From an overall perspective, the:
"measures employed to (remove them) relate to one of a number of complementary initiatives undertaken by both public and private actors intent on creating, and maintaining, a Jewish demographic majority throughout occupied East Jerusalem" toward the ultimate goal of making all Jerusalem exclusively Jewish.
Currently, four Sheikh Jarrah planning schemes are in different approval stages, the largest being TPS 12705, submitted by Nahalat Shimon International in August 2008, applying directly to the land where the families live. If approved, construction of 200 new Jewish only residential units will proceed, affecting 500 Palestinians who'll be evicted and their homes demolished.
Other developments involve smaller projects, all favoring Jews over Palestinians. Together, they'll "advance the creation of Israeli strongholds in the holy basin surrounding the Old City with Sheikh Jarrah to the north, Silwan to the south, and the Mount of Olives to the east." The idea is to build a number of Jewish neighborhoods linking West Jerusalem and Mount Scopus, a Jewish continuity, simultaneously displacing longstanding Palestinian residents from their own land.
As for the 28 Palestinian families, they're an impediment to Israel's aim. The solution then is remove them with the help of obliging courts that usually deliver.
The issue "also represents the most evolved (initiative) facilitating the development of Jewish settlements throughout this sector of occupied East Jerusalem." It began over 30 years ago, initiating a long succession of rental demands and subsequent legal actions.
The Al-Kurd Family's testimony is instructive. Shortly after the 1948 war, Fawzyeh Al-Kurd was born in the Old City. Needing a new home, she found it in Sheikh Jarrah, thanks to the UNWRA-Jordan agreement. She's been there ever since, married Mohammed Kamel Al-Kurd in 1970, and raised six children. Two years later, litigation demanding rent began when she was young and didn't realize the consequences.
Over the years, hardships and continuous legal proceedings generated "fear and uncertainty" that culminated on November 8, 2008 when heavily armed, masked police entered their home forcibly in the middle of the night after locking down the neighborhood.
Though ill and confined to a wheelchair, Mohammed was thrown to the sidewalk, suffered a heart attack, and died a week later from a second one. He was too sick to contest. In mourning, Fawzyeh lived in a tent, protested, and was harassed by police. Confused and frustrated, she noted that "Many people, organizations, and governments know of my case, yet the world has remained silent."
In two separate 1999 lawsuits, the Committees demanded that the family be evicted over rent delinquency and Tenant Protection Law violations. They prevailed, and an eviction order was issued, based on a 1989 Civil Appeal ruling and the Committees' 1972 "koshan." The Al-Kurds were held in contempt for violating the Committees' rights, the judgment also saying if the family objected, they had to pay rent to a court fund until the ownership question was resolved.
The Al-Kurds' appeal was rejected on the grounds that the family failed to prove they were misrepresented and that delay in filing the claim effectively undermined their position.
In 2008, the family sued in the High Court of Justice (HCJ) in which they requested a declaratory judgment under which their lawyer's agreement and subsequent verdicts would be voided. Again they were rejected, the HCJ ruling that the family failed to meet the requisite burden of proof.
The Al-Ghawi family's experience was just as frustrating - losing their home, living in a tent for six months until returning while legal proceedings continued until receiving a final notice in August 2009 when police stormed the house, removed them forcibly, and destroyed most of their belongings in the process. Reflecting on the episode, Fuad Al-Ghawi said "The reaction of the children has been terrible. They are afraid and unable to forget that they once lived" there.
Yet he remained steadfast seeking an alternative solution, saying:
"We are waiting for someone to help us. I am struggling to stay in Jerusalem. Our options are limited; the cost of a new house here is very high. I don't know what we are going to do, but we won't leave, or else we will never be allowed back."
For the Hanoun family, suffering compounded by uncertainty became an element of every day life, Maher saying it was "impossible to plan for a future." Evicted in 2002, they were again in August 2009. The experience took its toll.
"The eviction has destroyed our lives. To live on the street is so hard. It kills my family to watch strange faces living in the home in which we spent our lives."
Yet Maher is determined to achieve an equitable solution for his family and other Sheikh Jarrah residents. His home motivates his spirit. "The same house contains the history, memories, and dreams of my family."
The Sabbagh family lived in their home since 1956 when named in the initial 1972 actions against Sheikh Jarrah residents. Finally in June 2009, a court document challenged their land ownership right, the same action Mohammed Sabbagh knew his neighbors faced over the years. Preparing for the worst, his case remains ongoing awaiting the next court hearing. It's already convened twice, both times Committee lawyers requesting a delay for being unable to supply requested documents.
The other families keep struggling, facing one obstacle after another, being rejected time and again, yet persisting to retain land they rightfully own.
International Law Considerations
Numerous international laws affirm the right to housing, property, protection against forced evictions, and reparations. Yet Israel repeatedly violates them. Consider Jerusalem. The UN Partition Plan designated it an international city under a UN Trusteeship Council. But contrary to international laws, Israel claims sovereignty, imposed control, and is incrementally removing Palestinians to make it exclusively a Jewish city.
On June 7, 1967, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan proclaimed: The Israeli Defense Forces have liberated Jerusalem. We have reunited the torn city, the capital of Israel. We have returned to this most sacred shrine, never to part from it again."
Yet General Assembly and Security Council resolutions called for the city's immediate, unconditional "demilitarization" and "internationalization."
Nonetheless, in 1967, historic Palestine became belligerently occupied. Jerusalem was declared its capital, and Palestinians have been systematically removed, despite UN resolutions declaring all:
"measures taken by Israel to change the status of the city to be invalid, (and ordering its government to) rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further actions which tend to change the status of Jerusalem."
July 1980 was defining when Israel passed its Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel (the Jerusalem Law), declaring the city "complete and united (as) the capital of Israel."
East Jerusalem was effectively annexed in violation of international law and Israel's noncompliance with Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. SC Resolution 478 (August 20, 1980) declared the law null and void, a violation of international law, and required it be rescinded forthwith. The vote was 14 - 0, America abstaining.
Israel categorically rejected it, announcing "It will not undermine the status of Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign Israel and as a united city which will never again be torn apart."
International laws state otherwise, requiring an occupying power to respect territorial laws in place, any new ones conforming with the provisions of Fourth Geneva's Article 64 and Article 43 of the Hague Regulations.
"The penal laws of the occupied territory shall remain in force, with the exception that they may be repealed or suspended by the Occupying Power in cases where they constitute a threat to its security or an obstacle to the application of the present Convention....the tribunals of the occupied territory shall continue to function in respect of all offences covered by the said laws."
In defiance, Israel imposed its will, thereafter tightening it ruthlessly. As a result, Sheikh Jarrah residents are governed under Israeli law, affording them no justice or redress.
Combined, Hague (1907) and Geneva (1949 and subsequent additions) international law provisions comprise the core body of occupation law. They regard military occupation as temporary, for the period only between cessation of hostilities and a peace treaty. Occupying powers have no sovereignty over territories they control. They're temporary trustees, responsible under Hague's Article 43:
to "take all measures in (their) power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country."
Even then, Hague and Geneva stipulate that any legislative or other changes must benefit the civilian population, protect their rights, and prescribe no unlawful measures, including collective punishment, forcible transfer, or the confiscation or destruction of their property.
Especially relevant is Israel's 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters of Law. It was enacted to include all properties Jews claimed ownership of pre-1948, empowering an Administrator General to return them to their previous owners. A separate law prohibited Palestinians from reclaiming lost West Jerusalem land - actions Hague and Geneva provisions call discriminatory, illegal, and unjustifiable.
Under Fourth Geneva's Article 4, East Jerusalem Palestinians are "protected persons," Article 29 stating:
"the party to the conflict in whose hands protected persons may be, is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents, irrespective of any individual responsibility which may be incurred."
Article 27 states:
"Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and....all protected persons shall be treated with the same consideration by the Party to the conflict in whose power they are, without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on race, religion or political opinion."
In other words, occupied people are ensured absolute protection. Under international law, violations hold no validity, including illegal territorial annexations.
Confiscating and demolishing Palestinian homes for Jewish settlements constitute serious legal breaches. Hague's Article 46 prohibits expropriation, and Article 47 bans pillage.
Fourth Geneva's Article 53 forbids private property destruction, not justified by military necessity that ends when hostilities cease.
Belligerently occupying Sheikh Jarrah "invalidates any recourse to military necessity as the basis of the seizure and proposed destruction of private property." Doing it for 200 exclusively Jewish residential units is a grave international law breach, that under the Rome Statute's Article 8(2)(a)(iv) is a war crime.
It also violates Fourth Geneva's Article 49 stipulating that the "Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies" nor forcibly remove its lawful residents. The Rome Statute calls this a war crime.
Thus far, four Sheikh Jarrah families (with its 100 residents) have been forcibly uprooted and evicted. The fate of 24 others (with hundreds more) hangs in the balance, besides thousands already displaced and the entire East Jerusalem Palestinian population targeted for removal - involuntarily, forcibly and illegally. The International Criminal Court calls forced displacement a war crime and a crime against humanity when part of a widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population.
Numerous other international laws respect the right to property and protection against confiscation, destruction, and forced evictions, including the:
-- Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
-- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
-- International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights;
-- Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination;
-- Convention on the elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and
-- Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Sheikh Jarrah is a "poignant case study" highlighting Israel's belligerent lawlessness. It's "a microcosm of Israel's aggressive East Jerusalem" land policies over the entire West Bank, providing "a documented example of the (multiple public and private forces) engaged in cementing (its) claim to sovereignty over (all) Jerusalem" and as much of the West Bank as it wishes.
Palestinians have endured decades of occupied belligerency and the systematic theft of their land, the international community failing to fulfill its obligations under Article 1 to the four Geneva Conventions stipulating:
"The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances," meaning they must intervene to enforce the law by holding violator states liable.
Yet for over six decades, Israel's has remained unaccountable, including for state terrorism, belligerency, militarized occupation, arrests, incarcerations, random killings, targeted assassinations, torture, free movement and expression restrictions, crop destruction, economic strangulation, home demolitions, land seizures, and forced displacement, yet the world community is silent.
How long will this continue? When will justice be served? Why haven't supportive millions acted to assure it? People of conscience demand answers. It's high time they got them.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.