The dispute in Sheikh Jarrah has its roots in the 19th century, when the city was governed by the Ottoman Empire. The parties disagree on the history of the neighborhood’s ownership, but an Israeli court has found that in 1876, Arab landowners sold plots there to two Jewish trusts. Tradition held that the land housed the ancient tomb of a revered Jewish priest, Shimon Hatzadik.
Jordan captured the site during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, and later built dozens of houses there for Palestinian refugees who had fled their homes during the war.
After Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, the land was returned to the Jewish trusts, which then sold it to various settler groups. Those groups, in turn, have spent decades trying to evict the Palestinian refugees. Some Palestinian residents have already been forced to leave, while others — like the four families who rejected the deal on Tuesday — are still appealing their evictions.
The evictions have highlighted what critics say is an imbalance in who gets to reclaim land in Jerusalem. A 1970 law allows landowners to reclaim certain properties in East Jerusalem that were captured by Jordan in 1948. While the law does not refer to the beneficiaries’ ethnicity, experts and officials say it overwhelmingly benefits Jewish owners.
Myra Noveck and Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting.