The ongoing Nakba in Jerusalem

A person wearing a winter coat holds a sign in the street

Palestinians and Israelis protest against forcible evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem in March 2020.

Heather Sharona Weiss ActiveStills

Israel is committing an ongoing Nakba in occupied East Jerusalem.

Settler organizations are threatening to forcibly evict 15 Palestinian families from their Jerusalem homes in the next few months.

This amounts to 37 households and around 195 individuals, according to Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

The families reside in the Karm al-Jaouni area of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the Batan al-Hawa area of the Silwan neighborhood.

In November, Israeli courts ruled in favor of settler groups to evict the Palestinian families.

The two groups are Nahalat Shimon International – a company registered in the United States, and Ateret Cohanim – a right-wing settlement organization.

Both organizations help implement the Israeli government’s colonization of Palestinian properties in Jerusalem.

After seven decades

In February, a Jerusalem district court ruled against an appeal by six families living in Sheikh Jarrah against their eviction.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said the families were given “one paragraph” each to make their case to remain in the four houses they’ve lived in for nearly 70 years.

Families in Sheikh Jarrah owned houses and land inside present-day Israel before the Nakba of 1948, according to Peace Now.

They became refugees and moved to houses in Karm al-Jaouni area of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that were built by the Jordanian government and the United Nations for Palestinian refugees in the years after the Nakba in the 1950s.

In exchange for promises of ownership of the land and properties, families relinquished certain rights that would be provided to them as refugees by the UN agency for Palestine refugees UNRWA.

By the time Israel occupied the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967, the legal title to the land and properties had never been properly transferred to them.

Israeli settlement groups took advantage of the fact that such registration was lacking and launched a legal battle to forcibly evict the families.

The court’s rulings were made possible by an amendment to Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law.

The law allows Israel to seize land and property owned by Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes during and after the Nakba – the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias.

Under a 1970 amendment to its law, Israel allowed Jews to reclaim Jerusalem properties they allegedly left in 1948, but did not allow the same right to Palestinians – a blatantly discriminatory measure.

The court ordered families in the Karm al-Jaouni area to leave their homes by 2 May.

Other families were ordered to leave by August.

While those families are being forced to leave homes they’ve lived in for seven decades because that land allegedly belonged to Jews before the Nakba, the same families are not permitted to return to homes they were forced to flee before 1948 exclusively because they are not Jewish.

An ongoing Nakba

Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq said Israel is “unlawfully applying Israeli domestic law to occupied territory” by implementing it in East Jerusalem.

A coalition of 14 human rights organizations, including Al-Haq, sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Procedures experts earlier this month alerting them of imminent forced evictions in occupied East Jerusalem.

“Palestinians in East Jerusalem continue to endure an ongoing Nakba,” Al-Haq said, “as they continue to be denied their inalienable right of return to their homes, properties and lands.”

The lawsuits lodged by the settler groups are part of an “organized move designed to dispossess a Palestinian community of its home and establish a settlement in Sheikh Jarrah in its place,” Peace Now said.

Furniture scattered in a yard

Settlers arrive at the El-Kurd home after half of it was evicted in 2009.

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

Since the beginning of the year, Israel has demolished or seized more than 30 Palestinian structures in occupied East Jerusalem, forcing more than 50 people into homelessness – more than half of them children.

“If the government does not stop the move,” Peace Now warns, “we might see massive evictions of families in the coming months.”

“The court is only the tool … settlers use with the close assistance of state authorities to commit the crime of displacing an entire community and replacing it with settlement[s],” Peace Now said.

“We don’t have a place to go”

Mohammed El-Kurd’s family is one of those slated to be forcibly evicted from their home in Sheikh Jarrah by 2 May.

“My family specifically is currently waiting on, I don’t know, God to do a miracle,” El-Kurd, 22, told The Electronic Intifada.

El-Kurd was born and raised in Jerusalem. His family has lived in their Sheikh Jarrah home since 1956.

When he was 18, he moved to the United States to continue his studies.

El-Kurd said he was terrified for his family, seven members of which live in the Sheikh Jarrah home.

“We don’t have a place to go, we don’t have a place to stay, we don’t have the money or finances,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

In 2009, El-Kurd says half of his family home was taken over by Elad, an organization whose declared objective is to “Judaize” East Jerusalem by moving in as many Israeli settlers as possible.

Long-term effort

Hundreds more Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan are also facing similar legal proceedings launched by settler groups.

UN monitoring group OCHA estimated in 2019 that around 877 Palestinians, including 391 children, are threatened with forcible evictions mostly at the hands of settler organizations.

Settlers do so through lawsuits that Al-Haq says are “lengthy, exhausting and unaffordable” to the Palestinian residents targeted.

Israel’s courts essentially rubber stamp these lawsuits so as to make them appear as a matter resolved legally within Israel’s court system when the real motivation is to drive Palestinians out of the city all together.

Israel already creates a “coercive environment” – according to Al-Haq – for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem by walling, isolating and destroying Palestinian neighborhoods, eventually forcing them out of the city.

Eyes on Sheikh Jarrah

Settler eyes have been on the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood for some time.

The Israel Land Fund, a right-wing settlement organization that aims to push Palestinians off their land and replace them with Jewish Israelis, is a key player in this effort.

Arieh King, the director and founder of the organization, told The Jerusalem Post in 2017 that “Sheikh Jarrah, or Shimon Hatzadik, is going through a revolution, and we will see its outcome in something like five years.”

The Israel Land Fund advertizes an “investing opportunity” on its website to encourage investors to buy plots of land in the “Nahalat Shimon” area – a name given to an area that comprises most of Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of occupied East Jerusalem, where Palestinians live.

The group minces no words about its ultimate motive: “Our goal is to purchase most of the plots in the area” and to ostensibly clear them of “Arabs who have built on them illegally or are renting.”

Michael Lynk, the UN’s special rapporteur on Palestine, warned of the impending eviction of Palestinians in the city earlier this year.

Lynk said the targeted areas are “not random but appear to be strategically focused on an area in East Jerusalem known as the Historic Basin.”

Peace Now and Ir Amim, an Israeli group that documents settlement activity in Jerusalem, said in a 2016 report that the goal of settlement groups is to “consolidate Jewish control” of the so-called historic basin and create an “irreversible” demographic reality on the ground.

During February, Israel demolished, forced people to demolish and seized more than 150 Palestinian structures.

“This is the fourth highest such figure recorded in a single month” since the monitoring group began systematically documenting in 2009. Israel made more than 300 Palestinians homeless as a result.

Despite Israel’s relentless war on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, they are determined to stay.

“I have no sense of identity outside of Sheikh Jarrah. I have no sense of belonging outside of Sheikh Jarrah,” El-Kurd told The Electronic Intifada.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.