Israel’s AG declines to intervene in flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah land dispute

Decision due on evictions as Israeli far-right march in Jerusalem’s Old City is cancelled

A planned march by far-right Israeli groups through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City was cancelled on Monday as Israel's attorney general declined to intervene in the land dispute that triggered 11 days of bomb and rocket exchanges between Israel and Hamas.

Last month Avichai Mandelblit urged the high court to postpone consideration of the eviction of four Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. His action, however, failed to avert an escalation into attacks that killed 256 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel.

Mr Mandelblit’s decision frees the high court to decide the Palestinian families’ appeal against lower court’s orders to leave their homes. His office declared he reviewed all the material and had come to the “conclusion that there is no room for him to appear in the proceedings”.

Israeli settlers claim they bought the land – acquired by Jews in the 19th century – where the homes stand. The four families belong to a group of 28 families expelled during Israel's 1948 war of establishment from West Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa and were settled in Sheikh Jarrah by the UN refugee agency.


Israeli courts take the view that such land disputes are between private individuals. Under 1970 Israeli legislation Jewish Israelis can claim ownership of property once owned by Jews, while Palestinians cannot reclaim homes and land they lost in areas conquered by Israel.

Israel also bans Palestinian political activity in East Jerusalem, which was occupied in 1967, annexed, and the city claimed as Israel’s exclusive capital. The international community argues the city’s fate is meant to be settled in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

Arrest of journalist

On Saturday, Israeli police arrested and interrogated high-profile Palestinian journalist and activist Mona al-Kurd, who has led resistance to the settler takeover of Sheikh Jarrah homes. Her twin brother, Mohammed al-Kurd, who was not at home at the time of the police raid, turned himself in.

Following their release on Sunday, their lawyer Nasser Odeh said his clients were accused of "disturbing public security and participation in nationalistic riots".

Israeli police also detained Israeli-accredited Al Jazeera journalist Givara Budeiri while she was filming protests in Sheikh Jarrah on the 54th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Bones in her left hand were fractured during her arrest.

Reporters without Borders spokeswoman Sabrina Bennoui said this was a "clear violation of press freedom" and accused the Israeli authorities of preventing journalists from doing their jobs.

At least 14 Palestinian journalists have, reportedly, been arrested or placed in administrative detention in recent weeks.

On Friday, Israeli police disrupted a peaceful marathon between Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, another Palestinian quarter where residents are being evicted from their homes. Runners wore T-shirts bearing 7,850, the number of Palestinians said to be facing expropriation in the city.

At least 23 were reported injured.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times