Israelis and Palestinians hurled chairs at one another during clashes in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday morning after a far-right Israeli parliamentarian opened a makeshift office on the scene.
Itamar Ben Gvir, a member of the hard-right Religious Zionism party, had announced on Saturday that he would set up an office — a table under an awning — in Sheikh Jarrah, following the firebombing of a Jewish home.
Ben Gvir said he aimed to protest what he called the failure of police to protect Jewish residents in the mostly Palestinian neighborhood.
On Sunday morning, right-wing Jewish Israelis, including Ben Gvir, gathered in the front yard of a home currently lived in by the Salems, a Palestinian family.
The 11 residents are set to be evicted in March by the home’s new owner, far-right Jerusalem city councilmember Yonatan Yosef.
The Salem family arrived in Sheikh Jarrah as refugees from Qaluniya, near Jerusalem, following the 1948 war that saw the establishment of Israel, and moved into a home that had been owned by Jews before 1948. After Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, it passed legislation that allowed Israelis to reclaim property that had fallen into the hands of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property, which includes the Salem family home.
According to videos from the scene on Sunday, Israelis and Palestinians began shoving one another in an altercation that soon devolved into an all-out brawl.
By evening police said eight suspects had been arrested for public disorder, as officers braced for more violence. The nationality of the suspects was not immediately clear.
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Two of the suspects maced passersby and the others hurled stones, law enforcement officials said.
“In the past day we have witnessed disinformation and misinformation circulating on social media in relation to various events in the area, along with violent and inflammatory online discourse, and unlawful attempts to ignite the area,” police said in a statement on Sunday evening.
“The Israel Police will continue to act with determination and with zero tolerance against violence of any kind, violation of public order and illegal attempts to harm police officers or civilians,” the statement added.
Sheikh Jarrah, parts of which were historically known as Shimon Hatzadik or Nahalat Shimon, has become one of Jerusalem’s tensest neighborhoods. Far-right Jewish nationalists have sought to evict Palestinian residents in decades-long legal battles that helped touch off violence between Israel and Hamas last May. Scattered acts of violence have taken place in the area for months since then.
On Friday, a Jewish house was firebombed by unknown assailants; the family was away from home at the time. A firefighter was lightly wounded from smoke inhalation.
Right-wing Jewish activists went to the area of the firebombing on Saturday to protect the house, saying it had been repeatedly targeted and blaming police for failing to protect the family. Clashes broke out between the two sides, leading to two injured and six arrests.
A Jewish man was moderately injured by an Arab driver in the neighborhood around midnight. Police arrested the driver, who claimed he had been pepper-sprayed prior to the collision, apparently by Jewish protesters.
Meanwhile, Hamas spokesperson Mohammad Hamadeh threatened on Sunday that the rising tensions in Sheikh Jarrah would “explode in Israel’s face.”
“The attack by bands of settlers led by Ben Gvir against our people in the middle of the night is brazen aggression. It is playing with fire in Jerusalem, for which all of Palestine may ignite,” Hamadeh said in a statement.
In May 2021, before fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas, Ben Gvir set up a similar “office” on the neighborhood’s main drag — also a table under an awning with a sign. After rounds of clashes between Ben Gvir and his supporters and local Palestinians, he agreed to take down the stand.
However, tensions have been rising in the neighborhood for weeks. In January, municipal bulldozers evicted the Salhiya family in the dead of night following a standoff with police. The Jerusalem municipality expropriated the home to build a school on the plot where the Salhiyas lived.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry describes the Sheikh Jarrah struggle in English as a simple real estate dispute. But both the Israelis and the Palestinians involved deem it part of a long-term battle to determine Jerusalem’s political future.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 in a move not recognized by the international community. Palestinians hope to see the capital of their yet-unrealized state in East Jerusalem, an aspiration opposed by the Israeli right.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.