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Sheikh Jarrah is about much more than having the right documentation

March 23, 2021 at 10:11 am

Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign activists lift banners and placards during a demonstration against Israeli occupation and settlement activity in the Palestinian Territories and east Jerusalem, in Jerusalem’s Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, on March 19, 2021 [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]

We are facing a dangerous time in which Israel is threatening Jerusalem by erasing its main landmarks and features. The situation in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood overlooking Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the battles we are fighting.

Israel wants to demolish dozens of homes and displace hundreds of families on the basis of a court order issued under the pretext that the Palestinians do not own the land or the houses in Sheikh Jarrah. The irony is that there is no evidence of Israeli ownership of any plot of land in the neighbourhood, which was a village in the past, but became one of Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods. It was named after Emir Hussam Al-Din Al-Jarrahi, who was Saladin’s doctor in the 12th century CE.

The Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood was established in Jerusalem in 1956 in accordance with an agreement signed between the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordanian government, which set up a housing scheme for 28 Palestinian families which were displaced from their land in 1948, along with dozens of families who were there earlier. All of the families have documents from Jordan, proving their ownership of the land and houses.

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However, Israel does not recognise the Jordanian documents and demands documents to be sealed and signed according to specific conditions. It does, though, recognise forged documents provided by the extremist settlers who occupied Jerusalem only a few decades ago. The original owners of the land, whose families have lived there for centuries, are doing their best to prove their ownership of the land in Sheikh Jarrah to a judiciary that stands implacably against them.

What is happening in occupied Jerusalem is very dangerous; it is an attempt to Judaise the city and eliminates the Palestinian Arab presence therein by withdrawing residency cards, imprisonment, prosecution, home demolitions and the seizure of land. The importance of a neighbourhood like Sheikh Jarrah is its proximity to Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israel wants to empty the houses around Al-Aqsa and put settlers in them in order to surround the Noble Sanctuary from all sides with an Israeli Jewish presence. The settler-colonial state wants to change the identity of the city.

Judaisation of Jerusalem - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Judaisation of Jerusalem – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Despite the tensions in the relationship between Jordan and Israel, the Israeli General Election and the Palestinian Authority’s own preoccupation with elections, the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood issue should not be overlooked, as it is something that may lead to an explosion in Jerusalem at different levels. This is because the issue does not affect one individual, or one family, but dozens of families, hundreds of individuals and many homes. Moreover, the danger of what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah lies in the fact that it can be repeated in other areas, such as Silwan and the other Jerusalem villages.

“What will the government do in order to stop the Israeli plan,” Jordanian MP Khalil Attieh asked the prime minister, “which it announced by notifying the residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of a decision by the occupation court ordering the displacement of nearly 500 Jerusalemites, and demolition of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied Jerusalem, a neighbourhood that was established through an agreement between the Jordanian government and UNRWA in 1956 to accommodate dozens of families?”

Residents of the neighbourhood are demanding additional documents from Jordan to prove their ownership. They insist that the Hashemite Kingdom is required to provide them with the official sealed and stamped contracts signed in 1956 between the Jordanian Ministry of Construction and Development at the time and the neighbourhood’s residents because the Israeli courts have not accepted the documents they were given.

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The spokesperson for the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Dhaifallah Ali Al-Fayez, has said previously that all documents available to Jordan were submitted to the Palestinian Authority, and everything that was requested and was available was delivered certified, even the agreement signed with UNRWA. He also noted that these families were housed during the time of the Jordanian army’s presence in the West Bank and are therefore of national interest to the Kingdom.

The documents, despite their importance, are not enough. We do not want the issue to become a legal tussle about documentation, because the main problem is the existence of an Israeli project that will steal everything in Palestine, including the property of the absentees who are prevented from returning to their land. Even those who have documents have had their homes seized, which demonstrates that the issue is about much than pieces of paper.

This needs to be addressed, and quickly. Otherwise, there will be even more great losses in Jerusalem.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Ghad on 22 March 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.