It was infuriating to follow the Israeli High Court’s deliberations on Sheikh Jarrah on Monday. During a hearing on whether the Palestinian residents will be forcibly expelled from their neighborhood, the three presiding judges proposed a deal that would allow the families to remain in their homes as “protected tenants” for several years, in exchange for paying a small “rental” fee to the settler group Nahalat Shimon, which has been aggressively coveting the properties with the backing of the police. The hearing ended in an impasse, forcing the court to schedule another one next week in the hope that the parties will cave in by then.
What the judges described as a “compromise,” however, was delivered more like an ultimatum. The judges initially declined to give the families several days to consider the deal, dubiously claiming that they wanted to prevent further media pressure and that it would take ages to get all the residents to agree. Many Palestinians in the courtroom struggled to follow the arguments in Hebrew (no official translation was provided), leaving them to scramble for information about their fate. There was no subtlety about the judges’ goal: to pressure the parties into taking the deal, and avoid the responsibility of ruling on a matter with high political stakes.
The court’s attempt to make the Sheikh Jarrah families effectively accept the settlers as their landlords is a stark reminder that, for Palestinians, the Israeli legal system can never be an avenue for justice. Rather than give credence to the Palestinians’ rights to their homes, the judges seemed desperate to pacify Sheikh Jarrah’s resistance while preserving the settlers’ long-term plans for the Jerusalem neighborhood. As Justice Yitzhak Amit said, “This [deal] will provide breathing space for a few good years until either there will be a real estate agreement or peace will come” — essentially telling the threatened Palestinians that their occupiers will decide their future another time.
Such a maneuver is hardly out of character for the High Court, which, with rare exceptions, has routinely given a kosher stamp to Israel’s settlement enterprise; Noam Sohlberg, one of the judges on the bench on Monday, himself resides in a West Bank settlement. Even by presenting an ostensibly “balanced” and “pragmatic” solution, the court simply reinforced the rules of power under Israel’s colonial regime: the legitimacy of Jewish settlers, and the dispensability of native Palestinians.
Amidst the courtroom drama, it was somewhat vexing to see foreign diplomatic staff attend the hearing in support of the Palestinian families. From their offices and homes in Jerusalem, these diplomats, many of them well-meaning, have watched as Israeli state authorities and settler groups have transformed Sheikh Jarrah into an outpost of violence and cruelty. Back at their capitals, foreign ministries and officials have repeatedly condemned the settlements as illegal under international law and a threat to the creation of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
Yet even with this unparalleled attention, the weight of these political actors is amounting to naught on the ground. Sheikh Jarrah is now perhaps the most famous Palestinian community fending off displacement — and still, foreign governments cannot muster the pressure needed to fully deter Israel from expelling the families. Rather than apply serious economic and diplomatic leverage, these powerful states have largely responded with mere verbal concerns — leaving the Palestinians to suffer the settlers, police officers, and judges working in tandem to erase them.
The grassroots activism of Sheikh Jarrah’s residents, combined with the growing solidarity movement behind them, is helping to stall Israel’s plans and renew pressure on governments to put their money where their mouths are. But the fact that Sheikh Jarrah’s fate remains so precarious shows how much the “international community” feels like little more than a hollow shell, a void of empty words rather than an engine for action. If the High Court hands down a verdict to remove the Palestinians — or if settlers and police violently eject them — will the “international community” do what is needed to protect the families? Or will it continue watching from the sidelines, as it has with countless other Palestinian communities?