Palestinian lawyer confident of stopping Jerusalem evictions

Residents have until Thursday to come up with an agreement with Nahlat Shamon, a US-registered settler organization.

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Lawyers and activists pushing to avert the removal of some 87 Palestinian residents from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem seemed to be upbeat this week.

Palestinian lawyer Hosni Abu Hussein told a news agency that Israeli courts have given the residents living in 12 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood until Thursday to come up with an agreement with Nahlat Shamon, a US-registered settler organization. “We sat for hours with the judge and each of us gave suggestions to settle the case”, Hussein held.

“Our suggestion is that we deposit the rental money for the units to a secure fund at the court until the real owner of the land the housing units were built on in the 1950s is determined”.

Hussein believed that this suggestion was made because non-payment of rent is the fastest way to evict residents, according to rental laws. Jordan was in control of Jerusalem when the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) built the housing units on the vacant land and started to charge Palestinians rent. Settler organizations, which also claim to be the owners of the land, are now demanding rent payment.

According to the rent protection law in Jerusalem, the offer by the settler organization allows for Palestinian families to stay as long as a designated member of the family is alive. Thereafter, the settler organization would take over the homes. Palestinian residents have rejected this offer.

“We have been fighting for years, stressing that the settler organization has no right to the land”, said Abu Hussein, a Palestinian resident. “Why would we agree to this offer now?”. If no agreement is reached by Thursday, an Israeli high court judge will decide how to proceed in determining the real owners of the disputed land.

New evidence, which has emerged from the Ottoman records in Turkey and the Jordanian government, proves Jordan and UNRWA agreed to build housing units on the land for Palestinians, Abu Hussein said. This agreement came after the Palestinians became refugees in the city following World War II, as the land actually belonged to the Hijazi Saadi family, dated 1736 AD. Using old Ottoman documents, Nahlat Shamon said the land belonged to an Oriental Jewish group that registered itself in 1972.

Palestinian lawyers dispute this claim and say the documents in the Ottoman archives in Istanbul that Nahlat Shamon is referring to have no existence and are forged. Jawdat Manna, head of the Jerusalem campaign organizing regional and international advocacy, told the local news agency that he is excited about the positive feedback the campaign has had.

“We now have strong legal support from lawyers in Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, the UK, and the US as well as strong public advocacy support on behalf of the threatened Palestinian families”, Manna said. “Our complaint provides a comprehensive summary of the case and a call for an investigation of the injustice that the Palestinian families are suffering from”.

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