The Status of East Jerusalem
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was never recognised by the international community. Israel considers the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians view the eastern part as the capital of their future state. Under international law, the annexed area is considered part of the occupied territory of the West Bank.
Over 215,000 Israeli settlers now live in east Jerusalem among around 340,000 Palestinians, according to the Israeli peace group Peace Now.
Under international law, the area of east Jerusalem is occupied territory. As such, pursuant to the core principle of the law of occupation established in Article 43 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, Israel as the occupying power is obliged, among other things, to administrate the area for the benefit of the local population.
Transfer of Israel’s own population into the occupied area is explicitly prohibited under Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
Displacement of Palestinians in east Jerusalem may amount to a forcible transfer in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
These Evictions are a Political Issue, Not a Legal Issue
The settler movement and its allies in the Israeli government have an interest in framing the issue of evictions as a purely legal matter regarding ownership of property. But the evictions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem is a political issue with far-reaching implications for the entire State of Israel and the future of the conflict. The courts are only the tool to implement the move. The Israeli government can stop this move, and if it will come under significant political pressure, there is a chance it will.
The History of Palestinian Dispossession in East Jerusalem
For years, the threat of expulsion has been hovering over Palestinian communities in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan in east Jerusalem. A wave of eviction lawsuits is being conducted before the courts, with well-organised and well-funded settler groups equipped with direct or indirect assistance from government agencies and the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property.
The Israeli peace movement, Peace Now, has been following these legal cases closely for years, read their analysis and reports here.
The Absentee Property Law and The Legal and Administrative Matters Law
Israel’s Absentee Property Law was legislated in 1950, and ruled that any person who lived at any time between November 27, 1947 and September 1, 1948 (during the War of Independence) outside the boundaries of the Israeli state, had his or her property automatically transferred to the tenure of the Israeli Custodian for Absentee Property, without any compensation.
This law came to ensure that no claim would be held for these lands by Palestinian refugees who fled during the war.
After the 1967 Six Day War, when East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, all Israeli law, including the Absentee Property Law was applied to this area. This meant that any Palestinian who owned lands in east Jerusalem prior to the Israeli occupation, and who lived in the West Bank (or anywhere abroad), outside the new boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality, was under the threat of losing his or her property.
Recognising the issues this application of law created, a court ruling deemed it was not appropriate to apply the law to those that lived in the West Bank and owned properties in east Jerusalem. It was rarely used at all to gain control of properties in Jerusalem until the 1980s, when properties were taken in the Old City and Silwan, some of which ended up in the hands of ideological settlers.
In 1970, Israel passed The Legal and Administrative Matters Law which provided the means for Jews to reclaim assets lost during the war of 1948. This law determined that owners of properties in east Jerusalem, that in 1948 were transferred to the control of the Jordanians, could receive it back from the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property. The law was not applied to Palestinian land owners who lost properties in the same war and in the same circumstances in West Jerusalem. As a result only Jewish Israelis can reclaim their properties while Palestinians cannot. Moreover, the Absentee Property Law of 1950 enshrines that Palestinians who lost their assets in Israel in 1948 cannot recover them.
The Palestinian Voice #1: Muhammad Sabbagh
Dozens of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah (east Jerusalem) are facing forcible displacement from their homes by radical Jewish settlers, including Muhammad Sabbagh and his 32-member family who are under threat of imminent eviction. Hear Muhammad's story and understand the wider political implications of evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and the rest of the Palestinian neighbourhoods in and around the Old City.
For a full timeline of the legal case of the Sabbagh family, click here.
The Palestinian Voice #2: Mohammed El-Kurd
Mohammed El-Kurd is a nationally touring poet and writer from east Jerusalem. His family in Sheikh Jarrahis one of the 12 Palestinian families in the neighborhood living under the looming threat of eviction. He has written about this in +972 Magazine:
Like every Palestinian, I have carried these stories since childhood, and the burden has only gotten heavier. I have felt it. I have lived through it. I have scars to prove it. It wakes me up at night.
Read his piece here.