Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday postponed a decision in the case of Palestinian families being evicted by Israeli settlers in annexed East Jerusalem, an issue that escalated into armed conflict in May.
Palestinians said the offer had been made to remain in their properties in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood as “protected tenants” who would recognize Israeli ownership of the houses and pay a token annual rent, but they declined.
“They put a lot of pressure on us to reach an agreement with the Israeli settlers in which we would rent from the settler organizations,” said Muhammad el-Kurd, of one of the four Palestinian families at the heart of the case.
“Of course this is rejected,” he said.
Justice Isaac Amit called for further documentation, saying “we will publish a decision later”, but without setting a date.
Monday’s hearing was part of a years-long legal battle waged by Jewish-Israeli organizations that attempted to reclaim property from Jews in East Jerusalem before Israel’s founding in 1948.
Palestinian residents say Jordan granted them homes on the property after they were evicted from cities that became Israel.
Attorney Sami Irshid, who represents the Palestinians, on Monday urged his clients to reject Jewish-Israeli claims in any settlement.
“We are willing to be listed as protected tenants while preserving our rights,” he said in court. “We will ask for recognition of the property rights that the government of Jordan has given us.”
Ilan Shemer, who represents Jewish Israelis, said: “This settlement will be an empty settlement.”
The case has become an international affair, with dozens of people demonstrating outside of court on Monday.
11-Day Gaza War
The clashes in May over possible evictions of Sheikh Jarrah spread to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, sparking an Israeli crackdown that escalated into an 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
The families in Monday’s case appealed to the Supreme Court after two lower courts ruled that under Israeli property law, the houses in question belonged to the Jewish owners who bought the lots before 1948.
In 1956, when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control, Amman leased plots of land to families in Sheikh Jarrah, and the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees built houses for them.
Jordan promised to register the properties in their name but did not complete the process until Israel conquered and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 in a way never recognized by the international community.
In 1970, Israel passed a law allowing Jews to reclaim land in East Jerusalem that they had lost in 1948, even if Palestinians were already living there.
There is no such option for Palestinians who have lost homes or land.
Jerusalem deputy mayor Arieh King, who supports Jewish Israeli claims in the neighborhood, denounced the court’s postponement.
“As long as the court continues this, there will be more room for Arabs to cause riots,” King told AFP.
Instead, he said the court should rule that the country is Jewish “and end of story”.
Palestinian lawyer Irshid told AFP after the hearing: “There is reason for optimism”.
Israeli anti-settlement group Ir Amim says more than 1,000 Palestinians are at risk of losing their homes to Jewish settler groups and individuals in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhood.