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25 House Democrats call on Blinken to condemn East Jerusalem evictions

Letter urging top US diplomat to pressure Israel over fate of families in Sheikh Jarrah gets more support than expected

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Israeli security forces clash with protesters outside a home of a Jewish family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on May 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israeli security forces clash with protesters outside a home of a Jewish family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on May 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Twenty-five House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday calling on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to condemn the looming evictions of Palestinians from homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that are on land claimed by Jewish nationalists.

According to the Haaretz daily, the letter received far more support than originally expected, in the middle of a week when over a thousand rockets have been fired at Israel by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

There are 219 Democrats in the the 435-seat US House of Representatives. The higher-than-anticipated number of signatories on the letter, which has been circulated for nearly a week, reflects the steadily growing disapproval of the displacement plans within the Democratic Party.

The letter was co-sponsored by Illinois Rep. Marie Newman and Michigan Rep. Mark Pocan. It gained the signatures of Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Betty McCollum, Rashida Tlaib, Raul Grijalva, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andre Carson, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Cori Bush, Judy Chu, Ayanna Pressley, Bobby Rush, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Gerald Connolly, Jared Huffman, Peter Welch, Judy Chu, Alan Lowenthal, Veronica Escobar, Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo, Chellie Pingree, Debbie Dingell and Hank Johnson.

“Palestinian families have every right to live safely in their homes. That’s why I’ve led my colleagues in a letter calling on the State Department to immediately condemn these heinous actions by the Israeli government against Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. America must defend human rights everywhere,” Newman said in a statement.

In their letter, the House Democrats call on the Biden administration to “immediately send the strongest diplomatic message to Israel to desist from its plans.”

Ultranationalist Jewish groups are seeking to oust dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood over a real estate dispute. The most imminent notice against four families sparked mass protests in East Jerusalem late last month. Israel’s Supreme Court was slated to hold a hearing on the matter on Monday, which the state decided to delay due to concerns of violence and international pressure.

Democrat Marie Newman during an election campaign event in the Archer Heights neighborhood of Chicago, March 9, 2020. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The Sheikh Jarrah evictions are based in part on a 1970 Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim East Jerusalem land owned by Jews before 1948. No similar law exists for Palestinians who lost their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war and fled to what was then Jordanian-controlled territory. In fact, the Knesset passed a law in 1950 barring Palestinians from reclaiming property lost in the same war.

Jewish groups hold documents claiming ownership of the land from before 1948, which have been upheld in Israeli courts.

According to Ir Amim, a left-wing human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, around 200 families in East Jerusalem are under threat of eviction, with similar cases slowly moving through administrative bodies and Israeli courts. Around 70 of those families live in Sheikh Jarrah.

In the letter, the Congress members speak out against Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes, urging the US government to “send observers to document Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians, including details on the military units involved in these operations and the usage of any US weapons for purposes of oversight and accountability regarding Leahy Law and Arms Export Control Act violations.”

Those legislative measures bar US military aid from being used for purposes other than self-defense.

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