Palestinians reject offer to delay their Jerusalem eviction

JERUSALEM — Palestinian families on Tuesday rejected an offer that would have delayed their eviction by Jewish settlers in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood, where protests and clashes helped ignite the 11-day Gaza war in May.

The four families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood near the Old City said their decision springs from “our belief in the justice of our cause and our right to our homes and our homeland.” They said that rather than submit to an “unjust agreement” they would rely on the “Palestinian street” to raise international awareness of their plight.

The proposal floated by Israel’s Supreme Court last month would have made them “protected tenants,” blocking any eviction and demolition order for at least the next 15 years, according to Ir Amim, an Israeli rights group that closely follows developments in the city.

The families would have been able to continue arguing their case in Israeli courts. It would have required them to temporarily attest that the settlers owned the property, which might have weakened their case and forced them to pay rent to the settlement.

The four families are among dozens in Jerusalem who are threatened with eviction by Jewish settler organizations in several cases that have been working their way through the Israeli court system for decades.

The settlers are making use of an Israeli law that allows them to claim properties that were owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Palestinians who have lost their homes and properties in conflict with Israel do not have the legal right to retrieve them.

There was no immediate comment from the settlers, but Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King, a staunch supporter, said they had accepted the offer.

The families, who are originally from what is now Israel, say the Jordanian government granted them the land on which their homes were later built in exchange for their refugee status after it assumed control of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1948. They have lived there since then.

Israel has portrayed the matter as a private real-estate dispute, but the Palestinians and human rights groups view it as a coordinated attempt to push Palestinian residents out of Jerusalem and change the city’s identity. American officials have criticized the evictions as it hinders the efforts to revive the long-dormant peaceful process.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. Palestinians claim that all three territories should be part of their state. They want east Jerusalem to be their capital. Jordan backs their claims.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem shortly after the 1967 war and considers the entire city to be its capital, a claim not recognized by most of the international community.

The threatened evictions were one of the main drivers of protests that erupted in Jerusalem in April and May. This city is home to major religious sites that are sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It has also been the center of many unrests over the years.

After weeks of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, including at a flashpoint holy site, Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers fired rockets at the city.

That set off the fourth Gaza war since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Hamas repeatedly warns Israel not to expel the families.

The families’ decision to reject the offer sends the matter back to the Supreme Court, which could approve the evictions and pave the way for them to be carried out in the coming weeks. This could lead to another round of violence.

Ir Amim says the Israeli government has various tools at its disposal to delay or halt the evictions, but so far it has shown no indication it plans to do so.

Jeffery reported from Ramallah, West Bank.

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