From Qatamon to Sheikh Jarrah: Israel’s Theft of Palestinian Properties in Jerusalem

Jerusalem / PNN/

Israel’s illegal policies of forcible evictions and home demolitions continue to target and displace hundreds of Palestinian families in occupied East Jerusalem. Extremist Israeli settler groups, backed by the Israeli Government and the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality, continue to overtake Palestinian homes and claim the ownership of more Palestinian properties under the pretext of pre-1948 “Jewish ownership.”

Among the many Palestinian neighborhoods in the city facing this threat is Sheikh Jarrah.

From Qatamon in 1948 to Sheikh Jarrah in 2021, Israel’s goal has been to forcibly displace the people of Palestine, take over their properties, and make it impossible for them to exercise their inalienable rights including the right to self-determination.

Sheikh Jarrah and the Threat of Forcible Evictions

Sheikh Jarrah is one of the prominent Palestinian neighborhoods outside Jerusalem’s Old City that has preserved a cultural standing and significance throughout history. It hosts the historic Sheikh Jarrah Mosque, the Saint George Cathedral and College, Dar-el Tefl college, the Palestinian National Theatre (Al Hakawati), the Orient House (PLO Headquarters), the French and Saint John Hospitals, prominent hotels, and several diplomatic missions.

Israel’s illegal policies in Sheikh Jarrah aim at fragmenting the neighborhood and creating geographical discontinuation between other Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem (such as Shuafat and Beit Hanina) and the Old City.

Over the past decades, Sheikh Jarrah has been a victim of Israel’s vicious colonial plans that are designed to alter the character and identity of the occupied Palestinian capital – including the following:

The illegal colonial-settlement of “Ma’alot Dafna.”
A new settlement complex on the premises of the historic Shepherd Hotel.
A complex for three Israeli hotels (Olive Tree, Grand Court, and Leonardo).
The headquarters of the Israeli settler’ organization Amana.

Today, over 70 Palestinian families living in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni area of Sheikh Jarrah are undergoing a legal battle in Israeli courts to confront the threat of forcible transfer that allows settlers to take over their homes. Four of these families, (Skafi, Al-Jaouni, Al-Kurd, and Al-Qasim), comprising 30 people in seven households, have already received eviction orders and have till 2 May 2021 to evict their homes. Last February, the Israeli District Court rejected the families’ appeal.

These families, originally from West Jerusalem and other parts of historic Palestine, have become refugees following the Nakba of 1948. In West Jerusalem, an ethnic cleansing campaign was conducted, including Deir Yassin’s massacre and the terrorist attack against the Semiramis Hotel in Qatamon, leading to the forcible displacement of over 40,000 Palestinians. A significant number of them resettled in the eastern part of the city to continue facing, since 1967, a second and even a third displacement by the occupying power, Israel.

Seizing Palestinian Property Since 1948

Under resolution 194 in December 1948, the United Nations set up the Palestinian Conciliation Commission (PCC), composed of three countries (the United States, France, and Turkey), to “take steps to assist the Governments and authorities concerned to achieve a final settlement of all questions outstanding between them.” While the PCC failed to fulfill its mandate, it produced a valuable property database belonging to Palestinian refugees. Excluding the 1967 occupied territory and the Naqab desert, the database covers 5.5 million dunums (1359 acres) of privately owned Palestinian properties that Israel seized.

In 1950, Israel approved the “Absentee Property Law,” which became its primary tool to seize Palestinian property. The modus operandi was clear: Palestinians are prevented from returning to their lands/properties, then they are declared absentee, and consequently, the state takes over control. This is how the PCC-registered properties, including in almost 40 villages and several neighborhoods in West Jerusalem, were taken by Israel.

Irrespective of the commitment to fulfilling the UN Charter and implementing its resolutions upon its UN membership in April 1949, Israel has been violating all UN resolutions for the past seven decades – including UN resolution 273 that explicitly mentions the Israeli “commitment” to implement resolution 194.

Preventing Legitimate Palestinian Claims over West Jerusalem Properties / Encouraging the Zionist Seizure Of East Jerusalem
Israel’s propaganda efforts aim to portray Jerusalem as a coexistence city with equal rights for all its residents. However, in reality, Palestinians continue to live under a colonial occupation that sets two different systems, especially regarding property ownership, within the same city: one for Israeli Jews and another one for Palestinians.

The Israeli occupying authorities continue to support Zionist settler organizations’ alleged claims to take over Palestinian property in East Jerusalem (including pre-1948 “Jewish ownership” claims), but Palestinians are not even allowed to reclaim their properties in West Jerusalem. In this case, the “Absentee Property Law” continues to play a prominent role. While it virtually prevents Palestinians from reclaiming their properties in West Jerusalem, it is being used by Israel to seize more Palestinian properties in occupied East Jerusalem.

Within this process, Israeli courts’ collaboration has allowed these settler organizations to continue making use of such arguments (also of forged documents) that would be deemed illegal under any fair trial. The illegal annexation of Jerusalem has facilitated such tactics whereby the Israeli government, municipality, courts, and settler organizations have acted as one group targeting the very Palestinian existence in occupied East Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem is Occupied: Israel Must Respect its Obligations under International Humanitarian Law

Referring to alleged pre-1948 property deeds is just one of Israel’s tools to steal Palestinian land and property. This mainly reflects the reality of Apartheid imposed by the Israeli occupation. If Israel was sincere about the pre-1948 property deeds, it would have returned the millions of dunums of lands and properties belonging to Palestinian refugees.

In reality, Sheikh Jarrah, the Old City (the Islamic Waqf and Church properties), Silwan, among others, are all part of occupied Palestine, where Israel’s illegal annexation has been considered null and void by the international community.

Israel has the obligation, as occupying power, to act in accordance with the IV Geneva Convention, including by stopping the home demolitions and the forced evictions of Palestinians.

Failure to protect the Palestinian people under Israel’s colonial-settlement occupation, including by taking concrete actions to hold Israel accountable, will continue encouraging the commitment of such well-documented crimes and violations, perpetuating the violation of Palestinian national and human rights, and threatening the prospects of a just and lasting peace.

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