Israel is on the brink of war with the terrorist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. This past week, Hamas launched more than 1,600 rockets into Israel — most of which got intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome — after a violent confrontation between Israeli police and Palestinian rioters at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the Temple Mount, near the third-holiest site in Islam. The rioters had protested the eviction of Palestinians who have not paid rent for living on land allegedly owned by Israelis. The riot broke out just before Israel’s Supreme Court could decide the issue.
Hamas has claimed that the evictions constitute “aggression” against the Palestinian residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Activists in the United States have echoed this claim, with some describing the evictions as an act of “settler-colonialism.”
In truth, it seems Hamas has orchestrated unrest — an unrest that appears to be escalating toward war — because the Palestinians are likely to lose their legal fight, and for good reasons.
“If the aggression against our people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood does not stop immediately, we will not stand idly by,” Mohammad Deif, a leader of Hamas’s armed wing, warned last week, The Times of Israel reported.
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“There’s no denying the reality: This is Zionist settler colonialism, where if one settler does not take our homes, another settler will,” Miriam Barghouti, a Palestinian researcher, and Rutgers professor Noura Erakat wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on the Sheikh Jarrah dispute. “When will the world open its eyes to this injustice and respond appropriately? We do not need more empty both sides-isms, we need solidarity to overcome apartheid.”
Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) also condemned the evictions, claiming they represent a “direct violation of international law, the Geneva Convention, and basic human rights.”
The Democratic Socialists of America claimed that the Sheikh Jarrah evictions represented part of the “ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians everywhere.”
Yet the eviction of squatters who refuse to pay rent hardly qualifies as a violation of basic human rights, much less an act of “ethnic cleansing.”
The Sheikh Jarrah dispute dates back to the 1800s. Muslim Rabah al-Husseini built one of the first dwellings in what was to become Sheik Jarrah in 1865. The neighborhood takes its name from Hussam al-Din al-Jarrahi, the personal physician of Saladin, the Muslim commander who defeated the Crusaders. The neighborhood contains Jarrahi’s grave and a Sufi shrine to Saladin’s physician.
The Jewish neighborhoods of Shimon Hatzadik and Nahalat Shimon developed in the same area at the same time, The Jerusalem Post reported. These neighborhoods included the gravesite of Shimon Hatzadik, a prominent high priest of the Second Temple period also known as Simeon the Just. Two Jewish trusts committed to the development of the Jewish population of Jerusalem — the Sephardi Community Council and the (Ashkenazi) General Council of the Congregation of Israel — purchased the land in 1876, more than 70 years before the foundation of the State of Israel.
In 1948, the Transjordanian Arab Legion ordered residents of the Nahalat Shimon and Shimon Hatzadik neighborhoods to leave their homes for the majority Jewish western half of Jerusalem. The legion expelled Jews from the areas it conquered. The residents duly fled their homes.
In 1956, the government of Jordan, in cooperation with the United Nations Relief Works Association (UNRWA), arranged for the housing of 28 Palestinian refugee families in the area of the abandoned homes in the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood. Jordan built new apartments and the families leased the homes, paying a nominal rent.
After Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in 1967 — which Israel considered an act of war — Israel advanced into Gaza and the West Bank, retaking the entirety of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. The administrator-general in Israel’s Justice Ministry took control of the property in the area.
The Jewish trusts that purchased the land back in 1876 requested the areas be returned to them. In 1972, Israel accepted their claims, and ownership of the disputed area was transferred to the trusts in the Land Registry.
In 1982, the Jewish trusts requested the removal of 23 Arab families that had stayed in the Shimon Hatzadik area. The trusts reached an agreement with the families: the descendants of refugees recognized the ownership of the trusts in exchange for the status of protected tenants. The families gained long-term rental rights and agreed to pay rent to the owners.
Yet the trusts have claimed that no rents have been paid since the agreement, and that tenants have made renovations and alterations to the buildings without a permit. In addition, the trusts claimed the tenants had damaged and sought to destroy structures of the old Jewish neighborhood, including the synagogue.
In 1993, the trusts tried to remove the tenants for not paying their rent. In 2001, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court accepted the trusts’ demand. A series of lawsuits have sought to ensure the expulsion of the tenants, who still refuse to pay rent. The trusts ultimately sold their properties in the area to an organization called Nahalat Shimon International, which presented a plan for removing the non-rent-paying families (now numbering about 500 people) and for the construction of a Jewish neighborhood there in 2008.
Four of the families have been evicted, and eviction notices have been issued for others, but they have yet to be implemented. Thirteen households, numbering 300 people, face the prospect of eviction once all legal avenues have been exhausted.
Palestinians claim the Sheikh Jarrah dispute reveals the built-in injustice of Israel’s arrangements following the 1948 and 1967 wars. The Legal and Administrative Matters Law, passed in 1970, allows for Israeli property owners who owned properties that were transferred to Jordanian control in 1948 to reclaim their property. By contrast, the Absentee Property Law of 1950 governs property that Palestinian Arabs abandoned in the 1948 war. Arab-Israeli citizens and residents of East Jerusalem can claim compensation for their abandoned property, but no legal path for restitution exists.
Supporters of the Sheikh Jarrah families claim that Jordan gave the families the land, yet UNRWA documents show that Jordan charged the families rent for the land.
It seems the Palestinians have engaged in rioting because they expect Israel’s Supreme Court to acknowledge Nahalat Shimon International’s claim to the land and to evict the families who refuse to pay rent. Hamas may have encouraged the riots, sparking the cycle of violence that has brought Israel and Palestine to the brink of war, in order to prevent this final resolution.
While Israel’s law may not accord the same protection to Palestinian land claims that it accords to Jewish ones, this particular case is far more clear-cut: descendants of Palestinian refugees who had to pay rent to Jordan from the beginning of their occupation cannot remove the claims of the Jewish trusts who purchased the land in the first place and who sought to restore their claims after the 1967 war. The refugee families even agreed to pay rent and then refused to do so!
This isn’t an issue of Jews removing Palestinians from homes they own — it’s an issue of restoring claims that the Palestinians themselves acknowledged in the 1980s.
To hear many legacy media outlets tell the story, Israel committed atrocities by sending rockets into Gaza, killing at least 209 Palestinians. Yet Hamas fired the first rockets, which killed one Israeli soldier and six Israeli civilians, even though the Iron Dome interceptor system blocked about 90 percent of the rockets. Furthermore, many of Hamas’ rockets misfired (Israel claims 350 rockets misfired), likely killing innocent civilians in Gaza, while Israel sends evacuation warnings before it blows up buildings in Gaza.
All war is tragic, but the two sides are not equivalent in this case, and the initial issue that sparked the war is also clear-cut: the Sheikh Jarrah evictions that appear to be at the center of the conflict are not “settler-colonialism” or oppression but the rightful working of justice.