EU, European powers pan Israel over East Jerusalem eviction and construction

France, Germany, Italy and Spain say proposed Jewish neighborhood near Har Homa threatens viability of future Palestinian state

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A person walks on the ruins of a Palestinian house demolished by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on January 19, 2022 (Ahmed Gharabli/AFP)
A person walks on the ruins of a Palestinian house demolished by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on January 19, 2022 (Ahmed Gharabli/AFP)

The European Union and four major European countries released statements late Wednesday condemning Israel over new housing plans in Jerusalem and the eviction of a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah in the east of the capital.

A statement from the EU spokesperson’s office said that evictions of Palestinian families “poses the risk of fueling tensions on the ground and contributes to the worrying trend of increasing numbers of demolitions and evictions in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem.”

The EU also urged Israel not to proceed with a  plan to build a new, 1,465-unit neighborhood in the capital, half of which would be in the contested area over the 1948 ceasefire line.

“Settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions are illegal under international law,” read the statement. “They exacerbate tensions, threaten the viability of the two-state solution and diminish prospects for a lasting peace.”

The foreign ministries of France, Germany, Spain, and Italy put out a separate statement, saying the planned construction, between the neighborhoods of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa, “directly threatens the viability of a future Palestinian state.”

“Israeli settlements are in clear violation of international law and stand in the way of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” it continued.

Map showing the proposed Lower Aqueduct Jerusalem neighborhood, half of which would lie in East Jerusalem, making it controversial (Credit: Peace Now)

The European countries also expressed deep concern over the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, and urged Israel to permanently halt evictions and demolitions.

Before dawn on Wednesday, Israeli police evicted the Salihiya family and demolished their home in Sheikh Jarrah, arresting 18 Palestinians and Israeli activists at the scene.

Jerusalem city hall said it plans to build a special needs school for the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents on the plot, as well as six kindergartens and other public facilities.

It was the first eviction in Sheikh Jarrah since 2017. Eviction battles in the neighborhood in May were a major factor in tensions that touched off a brief conflict between Israel and Hamas terrorists, who threatened violence should Palestinians be removed from their homes.

The US envoy to the United Nations also expressed concern over the evictions on Wednesday during a monthly Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We do this for any structure that is built illegally. It happens in West Jerusalem, and it happens in East Jerusalem,” said Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell pauses while speaking to the press, in New York, September 20, 2021. (Brittainy Newman/AP)

According to Hassan-Nahoum, the home — owned by the Salihya family — was built illegally in the 1990s. The Salihiyas contest this, saying they have lived there since the 1950s on a plot purchased from private Arab landlords.

In 2017, the Jerusalem municipality announced that it would expropriate the property to build a school, sparking a legal battle with the Salihiya family. Last year, a Jerusalem court ruled in favor of the city, although the family has continued to contest the eviction.

Sheikh Jarrah, parts of which were historically known in Hebrew as Shimon Hatzadik or Nahalat Shimon, has become one of Jerusalem’s most tense neighborhoods. Palestinians live alongside a small cluster of right-wing Jewish nationalists who moved in following complex legal property cases.

According to the left-wing Ir Amim nonprofit, some 300 Palestinians are currently under threat of eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, mostly in private cases filed by right-wing Jewish groups.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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