Arab family in Jerusalem quietly agrees to return home to Jewish owners

Arab family in eastern Jerusalem agrees to pay rent to Jewish organization which legally owns their property, in exchange for protection from eviction.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

An Arab family living in the flashpoint Shimon HaTzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem has quietly accepted an agreement which would see them pay a symbolic amount of annual rent to the Jewish organization with a rightful claim to the property, in exchange for the status of “protected residents.”

According to a Wednesday morning report in Israel Hayom, the family is acting independently of a group of other Arab families in the neighborhood, who vehemently rejected a compromise deal floated by the Israeli Supreme Court last week in a fiery statement.

Calling the agreement “oppressive” and a smokescreen for “ethnic cleansing” and “forced expulsion,” the families said they refused to accept an agreement which puts them “at the mercy of settler organization.”

The news that one Arab family accepted the agreement, which would see them pay $465 in rent annually to the legal owner of their property, the Nahalat Shimon organization, in exchange for protection from being evicted, disrupts the narrative pushed by the other families in the neighborhood.

The agreement “gives us breathing room for a good many years until either the land is properly regulated or there is peace,” said Justice Yitzhak Amit when the deal was first proposed in August.

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The Arab families are rejecting the deal because accepting it would require them to recognize Nahalat Shimon as the rightful owner of the properties — a tough pill to swallow for many of the litigants involved in the court battle, who have alleged, without evidence, that the organization is a settler group that fabricated ownership deeds.

The Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood was originally home to a sizable Jewish population, numbering in the hundreds. Much of its land was owned by Ashkenazi and Sephardic religious cooperatives.

During the 1948 War of Independence, Jewish families were forced out and Arabs from other neighborhoods in Jerusalem, alongside a number of Jordanians, moved into the homes.

Some built new houses on the land in Sheikh Jarrah. The Jordanian Ministry of Housing also appropriated land to build houses for Arabs in the neighborhood.

Citing a 1970 Israeli law that permits Jews to reclaim property in eastern Jerusalem purchased before 1948, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Sephardic Community Committee of Sheikh Jarrah landowners.

The 1982 decision stipulated that the Arab families could stay in their homes as long as they paid rent to the rightful landowners.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that Arab families living in the Shimon HaTzadik compound in Sheikh Jarrah would need to pay rent, as the property belonged to a Jewish cooperative that had legally purchased it in the 1930s.

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Although the Foreign Ministry has said in statements that the conflict is a “real estate dispute between private parties,” critics of Israel have used the potential evictions as an opportunity to accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and “Judaizing” Jerusalem.