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 Old City Basin Watch: Residents of Batan al-Hawa and Sheikh Jarrah at Heightened Risk of Eviction


November 22, 2018

The outcomes of two critical court hearings held within the past nine days, respectively concerning Batan al-Hawa, Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, threaten to pave the way for expedited settler takeovers in the most highly contested part of Jerusalem.  Batan al-Hawa and Sheikh Jarrah are anchor points for a circle of rapidly intensifying settlement inside Palestinian neighborhoods within and around the Old City intended to reinforce Israeli control of Jerusalem’s historic center. The pace of new facts on the ground is now accelerating in advance of any prospective reopening of negotiations. In addition to the two court decisions, which threaten to put some 160 Palestinian families at heightened risk of displacement:

  • This week, the Knesset passed an amendment to the National Parks, Nature Reserves and Memorial Sites Law specifically designed to enable the right wing ELAD settler group to expand its settlement in the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan by reversing a long-standing prohibition against residential construction in national parks. ELAD has been responsible for the eviction of some 75 families in Wadi Hilweh.
  • In the summer of 2017, long frozen plans were thawed in Sheikh Jarrah, including plans for several six- story buildings that would entail the eviction of Palestinian families in Um Haroun, where 45 families are at risk of eviction and two families have already lost their homes to settlers.
  • A cable car project is now being fast tracked through the National Infrastructure Committee in violation of the planning process. The cable car has the potential to bring thousands of tourists per day from West Jerusalem to the Old City, over an invisible Green Line, into the hearts of Palestinian neighborhoods, to a constellation of state and settler operated sites that are effectively eroding Palestinian culture, narrative, and presence in and around the Old City.
  • If approved, the cable car will alight on the roof of the Kedem Compound, a massive state-of-the-art visitor center to be built at the mouth of Silwan and serve as the future headquarters of the ELAD settler group.
  • Additional touristic settlement projects around the Old City are advancing, including a plan to tie two settlements in A-Tur together via a promenade.
  • Bypassing the planning and construction committees, the Israeli government is promoting plans that include a tunnel in Silwan between the Shiloah Pool and the Kedem Compound; and the “Shalem Plan” for extensive archeological digs in Silwan, Mount Zion and the Old City, announced by the government in May 2017. At the end of 2017, Minister of Culture Miri Regev declared her intentions to allocate a budget of 250 million shekels to implement the plan.

The two court decisions, along with the passage of the National Parks Law amendment, could have disastrous results for Palestinians living in the radical settler hotbeds of Batan al-Hawa, Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah:

Batan al-Hawa High Court Decision  

Under the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law, Jews have the right to reclaim property in East Jerusalem lost before 1948, despite having received compensation from the state in 1948. This law is the basis on which evictions throughout the Old City Basin are justified.

Yesterday, the High Court rejected a petition challenging the Israel General Custodian’s release of pre-1948 Jewish owned assets to the Benvenisti Trust. The trust is run by members of the Ateret Cohanim settler organization, which since the building of the Beit Yonatan House (occupied in 2002) has been waging the single largest takeover campaign in a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967.  Some 17 out of roughly 100 families have been evicted based on the General Custodian’s actions and those remaining are at serious risk of eviction, now exacerbated by the Court’s recent decision.

The petition, filed by Attorney Yazid Qa'war et al. on behalf of approximately 10o Palestinian residents (some 70 families) of Batan al-Hawa, Silwan, revolved around the question of whether or not the office of the General Custodian could demonstrate that it had sufficiently weighed an adequate body of evidence before releasing the assets to the trust  - which, in early court hearings, the Custodian actually conceded it had failed to do. It also acknowledged that the parcels of land in question could not be owned by a trust and therefore should not have been released to the Benvenisti group.  

Despite these strong legal arguments, the Court rejected the petition, relegating authority to lower courts to rule on the issue within the framework of residents’ individual court cases.   A principled decision in favor of the petitioners would have reversed the settlers’ claims to the land, protecting the entire community from displacement.

Link here for additional background on the case.

Sheikh Jarrah Supreme Court Decision

On November 13, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that would have broad application for some 30 families at risk of eviction in Kerem Alja'oni, the eastern section of Sheikh Jarrah (area of the Shimon HaTzadik settlement).

In 2012, two Palestinian families from Kerem Alja'oni filed a petition arguing that the Nahalat Shimon Company had registered land in its name without sufficient proof of ownership and, at the same time, that Ottoman period documents verified Palestinian ownership of the area in question. The District Court ruled that the statute of limitations for submitting the documents had expired and refused to hear the petition.

Last week, Supreme Court justices clearly indicated their opinion that the statute of limitations had expired. While it remains possible that the judges could reverse their position, it is expected that they will reject the appeal, a decision that would put all of the families in the community at heightened risk of eviction.  Although the petition was made on behalf of two families, a decision in favor of the petitioners could be used to challenge settlement throughout the neighborhood. Consequently, over the past year, additional eviction cases in the neighborhood have been delayed pending the outcome of the petition. Rejection of the appeal therefore means that one of the families has exhausted its legal case and is at imminent risk of eviction  (if executed, the first in the neighborhood since 2009) and  all of the cases being held in the lower courts will resume, paving the way for a wave of evictions.

The Political Significance of Batan al-Hawa and Sheikh Jarrah

Batan al-Hawa, situated in the heart of  Silwan just outside the Old City, is now the site of the largest attempted settler takeover in East Jerusalem, threatening to displace 100 families – roughly 600 Palestinians – from their homes.  By the end of 2015, the Ateret Cohanim settler organization had quadrupled the number of housing units in its possession, taking over a total of some 27 units in six buildings. Some 17 families have already been evicted and approximately 80 have eviction claims pending against them in court.

This well organized Ateret Cohanim campaign represents not only the displacement of an entire community but also the direct involvement of the Israeli government in facilitating private settlement in the Old City and surrounding band of Palestinian neighborhoods.  The government has acted through the General Custodian and the Registrar of Trusts (both under the Ministry of Justice) to facilitate settlers’ seizure of Batan al-Hawa, as well as increasing its security budget by 119% from 2009 - 2016 to ensure the protection of radical Jews settling in the hearts of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Link here for Ir Amim’s and Peace Now’s comprehensive joint report, Broken TrustState Involvement in Private Settlement in Batan al-Hawa, Silwan.

In parallel, in the last several years the danger of eviction has mounted on the other side of the Old City, in Sheikh Jarrah. As reported in this  Ir Amim-Peace Now alert, a wave of eviction lawsuits are now in court, advanced by well-funded and organized settler groups who enjoy both direct and indirect state support:

  • Sheikh Jarrah - Um Haroun (west of Nablus Road): Approximately 45 Palestinian families under threat of eviction, at least nine families with eviction cases pending in the court system and an additional five who have received warning letters attached to eviction claims. Two families have already been displaced and their homes taken over by settlers.
  • Sheikh Jarrah - Kerem Alja'oni (east of Nablus Road): About 30 Palestinian families under threat of eviction, at least 11 of whom have cases pending in court. Nine families have already been evicted and their homes taken over by settlers.

The private settlement compounds being built in the Old City and its circumference (where roughly 2,500 settlers are now quartered) cannot be quantitatively compared to settlement building in the ring neighborhoods of East Jerusalem but qualitatively, they have disastrous implications for Palestinians in Jerusalem, the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem, the two state solution, and the Old City as home and historic center of the three major monotheistic world religions. 

It is vital that the traditional calculus of settlement building be readjusted to 1) treat these coordinated efforts to consolidate control of the Old City and surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods with the same urgency afforded to settlement building throughout the whole of East Jerusalem; 2) ensure a holistic response that regards private settlement inside the Old City Basin and touristic settlement not as individual phenomena but as multiple elements of a comprehensive settlement strategy. 

Please address all inquiries to:

Betty Herschman

Director of International Relations & Advocacy

Ir Amim (City of Nations/City of Peoples)





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Twitter: @IrAmimAlerts


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