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The fight for Sheikh Jarrah continues as residents battle second wave of evictions

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It has been an agonizing few weeks for 70-year-old Mohammed Sabbagh and his family of 47, who live in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The Sabbaghs, who live in five adjacent homes, were delivered an eviction notice by the Israelis on January 12. The family were told they had 11 days to leave, or else they would be forcibly replaced by settlers.

After Sabbagh and his four brothers filed an emergency appeal, Israeli authorities agreed to temporarily halt the eviction.

Mohammad Sabbagh in front of his family home in Sheikh Jarrah (Photo: Saleh Zghari)


“It bought us some more time, but we still know that eviction is inevitable,” Sabbagh told Mondoweiss in the living room of his family home, where he has lived since 1956, when he was eight-years-old.

Sabbagh’s family is originally from the town of Jaffa, now in present day Israeli territory. They were forcibly expelled, like hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians, during the Nakba in 1948.

Along with some 30 other refugee families, the Sabbaghs were given apartments in Sheikh Jarrah through UNRWA and the Jordanian government.

“We were forced out of our homes by the occupation when I was a boy, and now in my old age they are expelling me again,” Sabbagh said. “It’s another Nakba.”

Fighting the law

The Sabbagh family, like many others in Sheikh Jarrah and neighborhoods across East Jerusalem, have been embroiled in legal battles with Israeli settler organizations for decades.

After the Nakba and establishment of Israel in 1948, the state enacted the Absentee Property Law, which transferred Palestinian refugees’ property into the hands of the state.

Although their original homes in Haifa are still standing, the Sabbagh family cannot reclaim ownership of them.

The law, however, does not apply to small percentage of Jewish families that left their homes in 1948 for West Jerusalem and other Jewish-majority parts of Israel. Under Israeli law, those Jewish families could reclaim their properties, like the ones in Sheikh Jarrah.

Following the Israeli occupation of the city in 1967, parts of Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods where Jews once lived prior to 1948 were handed over to Israel’s Custodian of Absentee Property.

Israeli settler groups began making claims to the land and homes, using the Israeli legal system to try and kick Palestinian families out of their homes in East Jerusalem. Given that they were refugees not originally from East Jerusalem, the Sabbagh family homes were among the easier prey for the settler groups.

In 1972, settlers quietly registered the land where the Sabbagh family homes are located under their names, and in 2003, those settlers sold the property to settler company Nahalat Shimon.

The Sabbagh family home (Photo: Saleh Zghari)

“That is when everyone’s troubles really began,” Sabbagh told Mondoweiss, adding that in 2009, the family was served with their first notice of an eviction lawsuit being filed against them.

“The settlement organization was claiming that they have been the owners of this land since 1885,” he said, “and they presented documents claiming they are the owners.”

But Sabbagh believes the documents were forged, telling Mondoweiss that the alleged Jewish owners of the land pre-1948 were actually renting the land from a Palestinian landowner.

“With those forged documents, and the discriminatory legal system in Israel,” the settlers have been trying to kick us out.”

“I am not optimistic”

Using those same documents, settler organizations were able to evict three Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in 2009, the same year the Sabbaghs were given their first eviction notice.

Despite the family’s lawyers presenting proof to the courts that the settler documents were forged, Israel’s lower courts refused to rule on the family’s eviction, citing statute of limitations.

“They sent us to the High Court, and when we finally went in November 2018, the judges rejected our claims of ownership saying that we should have demanded ownership back in 2003 when the properties were sold to the settler company,” Sabbagh said.

After the High Court decision, the family was given their most recent eviction notice. Their only hope now, Sabbagh says, is the freese that their lawyers were able to secure.

“There are 11 other families in Sheikh Jarrah fighting eviction,” Sabbagh said. “If all of us file an appeal or motion with the Magistrate Court to open the ownership files of the families, we could buy more time and extend the freeze.”

But even when Sabbagh speaks of the chances the family has of remaining in their homes, he expresses little hope. “I am not very optimistic,” he said.

“One of the three judges who ruled on our case in the High Court is herself a settler,” he said. “So what do you honestly expect to happen? ”

The ‘Judaization’ of East Jerusalem

The story of the Sabbagh family and Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosm of the Israeli occupation and its decades-long efforts to “Judaize” East Jerusalem.

Rights groups and activists have long criticized the government for its housing and zoning policies that actively work to push Palestinians out of the city, which Israel has declared as its “undivided capital.”

“The Israeli occupation authorities and leaders have designed the laws in  in accordance with their interests, which is making Jerusalem a demographically Jewish city,” local Palestinian activist Omar al-Shalabi, 48, told Mondoweiss.

“The racism of the Israeli government is blatantly obvious to anyone who looks at the double standards they have for Muslim and Christian Palestinians, versus Jews,” al-Shalabi said.

Pointing to absentee property laws, zoning laws that restrict Palestinian construction in the city, home demolitions, lack of municipal services for Palestinian areas, and the over-policing of Palestinian communities, al-Shalabi argued that the Israeli government actively searched for “a thousand pretexts” under which they can drive out Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality has zoned only 15% of the land in East Jerusalem for residential use, despite the fact that Palestinians make up 40% of the city’s population.

According to UN documentation, at least a third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack an Israeli-issued building permit, placing over 100,000 Palestinians at risk of displacement.

“As Palestinians in Jerusalem, we face roadblocks at every turn,” al-Shalabi said. “But for the settlers, everything is allowed, and encouraged by the politicians and security forces who assist them in their takeover of the city.”

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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2 Responses

  1. Misterioso on January 30, 2019, 10:00 am

    As is his custom, Bibi Netanyahu, whose father was Polish, spews forth lies in a pathetic attempt to justify the Zionists’ ongoing monstrous crimes against Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants.

    Here’s his latest barrage of hate and gross misrepresentation:

    “Netanyahu during settlement visit: ‘The Land of Israel is ours”
    Middle East News, Jan.29/19

    “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday during a visit to an illegal settlement outpost of Netiv Ha’avot in the so-called Gush Etzion settlement bloc that there will be no more removal of settlements, reported Haaretz.

    “’There won’t be any more uprooting or halting settlements – just the opposite: The Land of Israel is ours, and will remain ours,’ Netanyahu declared.

    “There are more than 200 settlements across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, all of which are illegal under international law. Israel distinguishes between official settlements and unauthorised outposts (though many of the latter are retroactively ‘legalised’ under Israeli law).

    “According to the report, ‘Netanyahu met with residents of the West Bank outpost after ordering to allocate tens of millions of shekels to build a permanent neighbourhood for them, promising that ‘What fell will rise, it’s ours, we’re building here and you’re living here.’

    “Netanyahu added: ‘We’ve returned to the homeland, to Netiv Ha’avot (i.e. the route of our ancestors in Hebrew). Abraham, Isaac and Jacob passed by here. We’ve been here for 3,000 years.’ [**]

    “Addressing the evacuation of 15 illegally-constructed homes last June, following a petition by Peace Now and local Palestinian landowners to the Supreme Court, Netanyahu described the order as a ‘mishap,’ that a new neighbourhood would be built, and ‘nobody will uproot us.’

    “’The home where this child was raised has been demolished but we won’t have it anymore and that’s why we are building this new neighbourhood. There children will have homes here, we did not come back here after thousands of years only to be uprooted, nobody will uproot us,’ he said.

    **Reality: Palestinians, including their ancestors, have lived continuously between the River and the Sea for about 15,000 years.

    To wit:
    “The Origins of Ashkenaz, Ashkenazic Jews, and Yiddish”

    “Recent genetic samples from bones found in Palestine dating to the Epipaleolithic (20000-10500 BCE) showed remarkable resemblance to modern day Palestinians.”

    “The non-Levantine origin of AJs [Ashkenazi Jews] is further supported by an ancient DNA analysis of six Natufians and a Levantine Neolithic (Lazaridis et al., 2016), some of the most likely Judaean progenitors (Finkelstein and Silberman, 2002; Frendo, 2004). In a principle component analysis (PCA), the ancient Levantines clustered predominantly with modern-day Palestinians and Bedouins and marginally overlapped with Arabian Jews, whereas AJs clustered away from Levantine individuals and adjacent to Neolithic Anatolians and Late Neolithic and Bronze Age Europeans.”

    “Overall, the combined results are in a strong agreement with the predictions of the Irano-Turko-Slavic hypothesis (Table 1) and rule out an ancient Levantine origin for AJs, which is predominant among modern-day Levantine populations (e.g., Bedouins and Palestinians). This is not surprising since Jews differed in cultural practices and norms (Sand, 2011) and tended to adopt local customs (Falk, 2006). Very little Palestinian Jewish culture survived outside of Palestine (Sand, 2009). For example, the folklore and folkways of the Jews in northern Europe is distinctly pre-Christian German (Patai, 1983) and Slavic in origin, which disappeared among the latter (Wexler, 1993, 2012).”

  2. Boomer on February 1, 2019, 9:05 am

    Here in the US of A, news is reporting that a painting in the collection of Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts is claimed to have been stolen from a Jewish owner during the second World War. His family wants it back. Presumably the courts will sort it out, and possibly order the museum to give it up, as has been done with other art. I wonder when the Palestinians will get their homes back? Justice, it seems is a matter of might makes right. If you have the might, you have the right.

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