In the aftermath of the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians by Zionist gangs to pave the way for the creation of the state of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in historical Palestine to neighboring countries.
Following these events, which came to be known to the Palestinians as “Nakba”, or the Catastrophe, 28 families settled in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem in 1956, hoping that would be the last time they are forced out of their homes.
But these families, whose number has grown to 38 since then, say they are experiencing a renewed Nakba on a daily basis.
The Israeli Central Court in East Jerusalem approved a decision earlier this year to evict four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in favor of right-wing Israeli settlers.
Israel’s Supreme Court was scheduled to issue a ruling on the evictions on Thursday amid heated demonstrations and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, but the decision was delayed until May 10.
In the event that the court rules in favor of the settlers, the Palestinian families will lose their homes. Other families will face a similar fate.
In 1956, the 28 refugee families who lost their homes during the Nakba reached an agreement with the Jordanian Ministry of Construction and Development and the UN refugee agency UNRWA to provide housing for them in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
At that time, the West Bank was under Jordanian rule (1951-1967).
According to the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCPRJ), the Jordanian government provided the land while UNRWA covered the cost for constructing 28 homes for these families.
“A contract was concluded between the Ministry of Construction and Reconstruction and Palestinian families in 1956, with one of the main conditions stating that the residents pay a symbolic fee, provided that ownership is transferred to the residents after three years from the completion of construction,” the CCPRJ said in a statement.
This, however, was interrupted by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, in 1967 which prevented the registration of the houses under the names of families, the statement said.
In 1970, the Law on Legal and Administrative Affairs in Israel was enacted, which stipulated, among other things, that Jews who lost their property in East Jerusalem in 1948 can reclaim their property.
The Israeli Peace Now movement says the law does not allow Palestinians to reclaim their property they lost in Israel in 1948, a move that proves the existence of a separate law for Jews and Palestinians.
According to al-Sabbagh, residents of Sheikh Jarrah were deceived by an Israeli lawyer assigned to defend them.
“In 1982, the Israeli settlement associations filed an eviction case against 24 families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” al-Sabbagh said, adding that 17 families assigned Israeli lawyer Tosia Cohen to defend them.
As the legal battle continued, al-Sabbagh said the lawyer in 1991 signed an agreement, without the knowledge of the families, that the ownership of the land belongs to the settlement associations.
“The residents of the neighborhood were instead granted a tenant status,” al-Sabbagh added.
The lawyer, according to the CCPRJ, put Palestinian families “under the threat of eviction if they failed to pay the rent to the settlement associations”.
Meanwhile, Israeli courts continued to hear rival cases from residents and settlement associations.
In 1997, Suleiman Darwish Hijazi, a local resident, filed a lawsuit with the Israeli Central Court to prove his land ownership, using title deeds issued by the Ottoman Empire, which were brought from Turkey. The move, however, backfired when the court rejected the claim in 2005.
The court said the papers did not prove his land ownership and Hijazi’s appeal in the following year was rejected.
For years, Israeli courts have heard cases submitted by settlement associations against Palestinian residents, as well as Palestinian appeals against court rulings issued in favor of settlers.
In November 2008, however, the al-Kurd family was evicted from their home, followed by the eviction of the Hanoun and al-Ghawi families in August 2009.
Their homes were taken over by settlers who were quick to raise Israeli flags on them, marking a new phase for the suffering of the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
So far, 12 Palestinian families in the neighborhood have received eviction orders issued by the Israeli central and magistrates courts.
Most recently, four Palestinian families filed a petition with the Supreme Court, Israel’s highest judicial body, against a decision to expel them from their homes. The court is set to rule on the issue on Monday.
Al-Sabbagh, who has a 32-member family including 10 children, is afraid that the court verdict will make him and his family refugees again.
In 1948, al-Sabbagh’s family had fled their home in Jaffa, which is now inhabited by Israelis.
In recent days, protests escalated over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
The families have been embroiled in a long legal battle with ideological Jewish settlers who seek to acquire property in crowded Palestinian neighborhoods just outside the Old City.
Israeli police engaged worshippers in Al-Aqsa on Friday night during tarawih prayer with stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Israeli police attempted to disperse worshippers inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound Friday evening, using stun grenades and gas bombs.
Women were also targeted by Israeli forces, according to witnesses.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the world’s third-holiest site for Muslims. Jews call the area the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
More than 300 Palestinians were wounded after Israeli police stormed the mosque, firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.
Days of clashes in Jerusalem have left hundreds wounded and drawn international concern over an attempt by Israel to carry out pending evictions.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his deep concern on Sunday evening over the violence in East Jerusalem and has urged Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian and international human rights law.
“Israeli authorities must exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Leaders of both leading UK parties, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour’s Keir Starmer, have so far remained silent on the issue.
A statement from President Joe Biden’s administration that equally blamed Israeli forces and Palestinians for a night of violence in Jerusalem has angered Palestinian activists, who say it amounted to a “blatant disregard” for Israeli abuses and “equalises the victim and the oppressor”.
The US State Department announced on Friday that there were “deep concerns” over the planned evictions and urged “both sides to exercise decisive leadership” after hundreds of Palestinians were injured when Israeli forces stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque complex.
On Monday, the EU’s envoy to Palestine said that the bloc was “extremely concerned” by the spike in violence.
“We call for immediate calm. All must refrain from resorting to violence,” the EU mission said.
Is Israel preparing to invade Gaza?
Escalating hostilities even further, Hamas threatened Israel with an ultimatum on Monday afternoon, saying all Israeli security forces had to be removed from the Al Aqsa mosque and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem by 6 p.m., or else the so-called “joint operations room” a body representing the various terror groups in the Strip, would attack.
Minutes after the deadline had passed, Hamas took responsibility of rocket barrage towards Israel as response to attacks at the Al Aqsa Mosque. Rockets were launched towards Israel.
In response, the Gazan Health Ministry says nine people were killed in the northern town of Beit Hanoun due to Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian authorities claim three children were among those killed.
Now, the Israel Defense Forces said it was sending reinforcements to the Gaza Division on Monday as Hamas threatened to step up their attacks in light of growing unrest in Jerusalem.
Israeli military says it is ready to conduct an operation in Gaza, “even a ground operation is on the table.”
The Israeli army says it is ready for large-scale military operations in the Gaza Strip after security cabinet green lights it.
“We are heading for a fighting for several days against Hamas to make them feel the strength of the army”, Israeli Military Spokesman Heidi Zilberman says.
Therefore, there are strong signals of a possible invasion of the Gaza, which would be an unprecedented development that would risk plunging the entire Middle East into war.