Is­raeli evic­tion threat comes at tough time

The move would deal a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the peace process, Pales­tini­ans say.

Los Angeles Times - - The World - Ed­mund San­ders re­port­ing from jerusalem ed­mund.san­ders @latimes.com

A threat to evict about three dozen Pales­tini­ans this week from their East Jerusalem homes to al­low Jewish landown­ers to build hous­ing in an Arab-dom­i­nated neigh­bor­hood is pos­ing the lat­est threat to frag­ile Mideast peace talks.

The rul­ing in the lon­grun­ning dis­pute comes at a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive time, as Is­rael faces mount­ing crit­i­cism for its de­ci­sion to re­sume set­tle­ment con­struc­tion in the West Bank af­ter a 10-month mora­to­rium.

U.S. Mideast en­voy Ge­orge Mitchell ar­rived in Is­rael on Tues­day in a diplo­matic bid to keep Pales­tini­ans from quit­ting the talks in protest.

The new point of fric­tion stems from an Is­raeli Supreme Court rul­ing Sun­day over who owns a plot of land, and the run-down homes on it, in Jerusalem’s Sheik Jar­rah neigh­bor­hood.

The court up­held an own­er­ship claim by Is­raeli govern­ment agen­cies and a few pri­vate Jewish landown­ers who said they are re­claim­ing what was his­tor­i­cally a Jewish neigh­bor­hood. They say Sephardic Jews set­tled there more than 100 years ago to be close to the an­cient tomb of Shi­mon Hatzadik, a high priest.

Among the own­ers are the city of Jerusalem and Amer­i­can busi­ness­man Irv­ing Moskowitz, who is also be­hind the con­tro­ver­sial rede­vel­op­ment of the nearby va­cant Shep­herd Ho­tel, which is be­ing con­verted into a 20-unit apart­ment com­plex for Jewish res­i­dents.

Aryeh King, who rep­re­sents Jewish land­lords in Sheik Jar­rah, told the Haaretz news­pa­per Tues­day that three Pales­tinian fam­i­lies are likely to be evicted by the end of the week.

He said Jewish fam­i­lies would re­place them un­til con­struc­tion on new units can be­gin.

Pales­tinian of­fi­cials warned that re­newed evic­tions in East Jerusalem, where Pales­tini­ans hope to one day base their cap­i­tal for a fu­ture state, would de­liver a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the peace process.

“The set­tle­ments, and now the evic­tions, are sig­nals that Is­rael is not ready and not se­ri­ous,” said Pales­tinian Author­ity spokesman Na­bil abu Ru­daineh. “They are try­ing to put an end to the process.”

Is­raeli govern­ment spokesman Mark Regev would not com­ment on whether Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu plans to in­ter­vene to block the evic­tions, but he said the court’s de­ci­sion must be re­spected.

“Ob­vi­ously we’re aware of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue, but ul­ti­mately the rule of law must pre­vail,” Regev said.

Asked about the pos­si­ble evic­tions Tues­day, a U.S. State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said, “The U.S. will be re­mind­ing the par­ties that it’s im­por­tant for them to take con­struc­tive ac­tion and avoid fur­ther ac­tions that will make it more dif­fi­cult for ne­go­ti­a­tions to progress.”

The court re­jected a coun­ter­claim by Pales­tinian landowner Suleiman Dar­wish Hi­jazi, who said his fam­ily owned the land based on Ot­toman-era deeds.

The Sheik Jar­rah com­mu­nity has seen sim­i­lar dis­putes and evic­tions in re­cent years as Jewish res­i­dents have moved into the area. In one hotly con­tested case, Jews and Pales­tini­ans have been liv­ing un­der the same roof at one prop­erty since a court rul­ing that or­dered the house to be ef­fec­tively di­vided in half.

Af­ter 1948, Pales­tinian refugees ar­rived in Sheik Jar­rah, then un­der Jor­da­nian con­trol, af­ter flee­ing their homes dur­ing Is­rael’s war for in­de­pen­dence. They say they have nowhere else to turn be­cause their old homes, now part of Is­rael, were con­fis­cated by the Is­raeli govern­ment.

The le­gal tus­sle has en­snared about 25 fam­i­lies, who rent about 10 homes on the site. Some have lived there for decades, oth­ers ar­rived as re­cently as 2004.

“They just want to put Jews here in­stead of us,” said Sheik Jar­rah res­i­dent Bashar Abu Aloul, 45, who has been told that he might be evicted this week.

He said he has land deeds that prove he owns 75 acres in Tiberias, which his fam­ily fled in 1948. But attorneys ad­vise him that he has no chance of re­claim­ing the prop­erty.

“If they’d give me my land back, I’d go there,” he said. “Now I guess I’ll live in a tent. The whole thing is po­lit­i­cal.”

Oliver Weiken

IN EAST JERUSALEM: Pro­test­ers on both sides gather in Sheik Jar­rah, where a court rul­ing has opened the door to the evic­tion of about three dozen Pales­tini­ans to al­low Jewish landown­ers to build hous­ing.

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