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Sheikh Jarrah: Why Palestinians are facing possible eviction in east Jerusalem

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Tel Aviv — One of the factors that led to the current violence in Israel and Gaza is the possible eviction of 13 Palestinian families from the Skeikh Jarrah neighborhood in the disputed territory of east Jerusalem. Here's an explanation of what has been happening there, and why it has helped to inflame tension in the region.

FILE PHOTO: Jerusalem clashes ahead of court case on Palestinians' eviction
A Palestinian resident reacts during scuffles with Israeli police amid ongoing tension ahead of an looming court hearing in an Israeli-Palestinian land-ownership dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, May 4, 2021. AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

In the 1940s, Britain's control over what had been Palestine ended and ownership and control of the land was partitioned by the international community through the United Nations. But there was no agreement on the borders of two separate Jewish and Arab states. In 1948, the dispute resulted in a war, through which Israel declared independence and asserted control over more territory than had been initially proposed by the United Nations.

Many Palestinians were displaced during the conflict and became refugees. At the end of the war, Jordan had control over parts of Jerusalem, including the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which had earlier been home to a Jewish community.

In 1956, Palestinian refugee families moved into some homes in Sheikh Jarrah that were built with the support of the Jordanian government and the United Nations.

War over the borders broke out again in 1967 between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors. At the end of the "Six-Day War," Israel had occupied east Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah, and in 1980, it annexed the territory. Most countries still do not recognize Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem.

The city of Jerusalem is important to both Israelis and Palestinians, who want at least part of it to be the capital of their future state. 

In 1972, almost twenty years after Palestinians settled in the Sheikh Jarrah area, Jewish settlers started launching legal challeges to the Palestinian claims to the land, initiating a legal battle that continues today.

FILE PHOTO: Jerusalem clashes ahead of court case on Palestinians' eviction
Jewish settlers (right) gesture during a confrontation with a Palestinian resident amid tension ahead of an upcoming court hearing in an Israeli-Palestinian land-ownership dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, May 3, 2021. AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

The settlers say they have a legal right to the land based on an Israeli law that permits Jews to recover property abandoned during the war in 1948. There is no equivalent law for Palestinians, who have been unable to reclaim land they abandoned or were forced to leave during the war.

The 13 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have been fighting efforts by settlers to evict them since 2008 in Israeli courts. Protests erupted several weeks ago after a court ruling in favor of the settlers, which cleared the way for some of the families to be evicted immediately. 

The evictions were put on hold by Israel's Supreme Court, which said it would wait to deliver its verdict on an appeal of the previous ruling in a bid to ease the mounting tension in the Holy City. But as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan drew to a close, unrest at another flashpoint, the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, pushed the two sides back into armed conflict.

Tension over the possible eviction of several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood
Israeli police stand guard as a car belonging to Jewish settlers burns amid tension over the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, May 6, 2021. AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

The United Nations Commission for Human Rights has called the forced removal of Palestinian families a potential war crime. Israeli officials have called it a "real-estate dispute between private parties."

Since Israel was founded in 1948, wars and Israeli settlement construction have led to the displacement of some 5 millions Palestinians, according to U.N. estimates. The situation over the Jewish settlers' bid to expand into more areas by pushing Palestinians out cuts right to the heart of the wider conflict: Who has the right to what piece of land.

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