Mahmoud Illean / AP
JERUSALEM – Palestinian families on Tuesday rejected an offer that would have delayed their expulsion of Jewish settlers in a tense neighborhood in Jerusalem, 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 stems from “our belief in the justice of our cause and our right to our home and our homeland.” They said that instead of submitting to an “unfair deal”, they would rely on the “Palestinian street” to create international awareness of their situation.
The proposal, made by the Israeli Supreme Court last month, would have made them “protected tenants”, which would block any eviction and demolition for at least the next 15 years, according to Ir Amim, an Israeli rights group that closely monitors developments in the city.
The families would have been able to continue arguing for their case in Israeli courts. But it would have forced them to at least temporarily certify the settlers ‘ownership of the properties, which could weaken the families’ case in the future, and pay rent to the settlers.
The four families are among dozens in Jerusalem, which is threatened with the expulsion of Jewish settler organizations in several cases that have worked their way through the Israeli legal system for decades.
The settlers make use of an Israeli law that allows them to claim properties owned by Jews before the 1948 war around the establishment of Israel. Palestinians who lost homes, property and land in the same conflict have no right to get them back.
There was no immediate comment from the settlers, but Jerusalem’s deputy mayor Arieh King, a loyal supporter, said they had accepted the offer.
The families, originally from present-day Israel, say the Jordanian government gave them the land on which their homes were later built in return for their refugee status after it took control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1948. They have been living there ever since.
Israel has portrayed the case as a private property conflict, but Palestinians and human rights groups see it as a coordinated attempt to push Palestinian residents out of Jerusalem and change the city’s identity. The United States has spoken out against the postponements, saying it is undermining efforts to eventually revive the long-dormant peace process.
Israel conquered East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state and consider East Jerusalem as their capital. Jordan supports their claims.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem shortly after the 1967 war and considers the entire city its capital, a claim not recognized by most of the international community.
The threatened evictions were one of the main drivers behind protests that erupted in Jerusalem in April and May. The city, with large holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is the emotional heart of the century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been the epicenter of several waves of unrest over the years.
After weeks of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, including at a hotspot, sacred site, Gaza militant Hamas rulers fired rockets at the city.
It sparked the fourth Gaza war since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Hamas has repeatedly warned Israel against throwing out its families.
The families’ decision to reject the offer sends the case back to the Supreme Court, which can approve the evictions and pave the way for them to be implemented in the coming weeks. It would risk setting in motion another cycle of violence.
Ir Amim says the Israeli government has various tools at its disposal to delay or halt the postponements, but so far it has shown no indication that it plans to do so.