These owners lost access to the land when Jerusalem was divided after the war, after Jordan conquered the eastern half of the city while the new State of Israel asserted sovereignty in the west.
4 Palestinian families who are believed to have fled the fighting moved into 10 buildings on the land after accepting a deal to relinquish their refugee status offered by Jordan.
Litigious attempts by the Jewish owners to reclaim the land after Jerusalem was reunified after the 1967 Six Day War were ultimately successful when the Jerusalem District Court ruled in their favor. The Palestinian tenants, who were found to have never finalized a legally binding registration process, have refused eviction orders and appealed to overturn the verdict in a case pending before the High Court of Justice, which has urged the parties to seek compromise.
“We have a family of 14 – 7 adults and 7 children. We’re not leaving – let whatever happens happen,” one of the residents, Abdel-Fatteh Iskafi, told Reuters, insisting “They would have to kill us and then we’d leave. We won’t leave.”
“We reject this completely,” Mona al-Kurd, one of the Palestinian residents told AFP. “The settlers want us to recognize their property rights, it is impossible.”
The dispute has seemingly been used by Palestinian and Islamist organizations as a pretext to stage rallies that have frequently become violent to protest against what the organizers claim to be an orchestrated attempt to alter ethnic demographics in the area by ‘Jewish settlers.’
“This is a continuous program that has been ongoing for a few years, they have been evicting people, to change this neighborhood’s reality from it being Arab and Islamic to a Jewish one, by force and under armed threat,” said the Secretary General of the Fatah faction in Jerusalem Shadi Mtoor.
Despite the outbreak of violence, the Jewish plaintiffs – who have already obtained several of the properties per orders of the court orders – refuse to concede ownership.
“These are our houses,” said one unidentified Jewish claimant, accusing the Palestinians of throwing rocks and glass bottles in an “Intifada” while “we want to live here quietly.”
Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif issued a warning that Israel would pay a “high price” if it ‘did not stop attacking residents’ in Sheikh Jarrah.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki sent a written request calling on the International Criminal Court (ICC) “to take a clear and public stand against crimes perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.”
The European Union, which regards East Jerusalem as “occupied Palestinian territory,” has expressed alarm over the situation.