RAMALLAH: Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a group of Palestinian families due to be evicted from the occupied Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem can remain in their homes.
The families now await a final decision on the ownership of the disputed land, which settlers also claim.
The court ruled that the families can stay in their homes until Israel carries out a land arrangement, a process that could take years or may not be carried out at all.
Nabil Al-Kurd, a family member threatened with eviction, told Arab News that residents are waiting for lawyers to explain the court’s decision.
His friend Abdel Fattah Skafi said: “Today we feel the victory, and I am happy with this achievement, which has not happened in 50 years.”
The ruling could help ease tensions in the neighborhood, which escalated before the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza last year.
Justice Isaac Amit, in a ruling by a three-judge panel, wrote that Palestinian families would be recognized as protected tenants, and would pay a settler group a symbolic annual rent of 2,400 Israeli shekels ($744) “until a determination of ... land rights.”
Palestinian families had been seeking a right to appeal a lower court decision that ruled Israeli settlers owned the land.
In Tuesday’s ruling, two of the three judges granted that right to appeal.
The Israeli top court ruling will affect 13 Palestinian families facing eviction from their homes in favor of settlers who claim the neighborhood.
Skafi said that his family and other residents have lived in a “state of tension and anxiety” in recent weeks amid fears of eviction.
He believes that the courts and the Israeli government have understood that the threat to Arab homes is a “dangerous matter” and a “red line” that could inflame tensions.
Last year, the families refused a “compromise” proposed by Israel’s top court, in which they would be recognized as protected tenants in exchange for accepting Israeli ownership of their homes.
The court said that if the families and the settlement association did not agree to the compromise, it would decide on petitions against their eviction, without specifying a date.
The families have been staying in their homes since 1956 after an agreement with the Jordanian government and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
Palestinian families moved to appeal to the Supreme Court after a district court ordered them to leave their properties in favor of Israeli settlers.
Since the 1990s, residents have been locked in a legal battle with settler groups in Israeli courts.
Israeli settler groups claim the Palestinian homes are built on land that Jews owned before 1948, which the Palestinians deny.
Palestinian critics argue that Israeli authorities are targeting the families in Jerusalem as part of a strategy to change the demographics of the occupied city and “obliterate Palestinian identity.”
Skafi said: “We feel comfortable now; there is no danger of evacuating us from our homes at any moment, and we will prove to the Israeli court that this land and the homes are ours. Then our problem and our long suffering will end.”
Husni Abu Hussein, a lawyer representing some of the Palestinian families, told Arab News that “it was no longer possible to evict these families from their homes.”
He added: “We have been looking for this achievement for 30 years.”