search

In first since 2017, police try to evict family in flashpoint Jerusalem neighborhood

Family member threatens to burn down home rather than leave; city hall aims to seize the Sheikh Jarrah land for a new school

  • Palestinians with gas cylinders stand on a rooftop of a house being evacuated by Israeli special forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Palestinians with gas cylinders stand on a rooftop of a house being evacuated by Israeli special forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Israeli special forces stand guard during the evacuation of a house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
    Israeli special forces stand guard during the evacuation of a house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
  • Palestinians with gas cylinders stand on a rooftop of a house being evacuated by Israeli special forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
    Palestinians with gas cylinders stand on a rooftop of a house being evacuated by Israeli special forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
  • Israeli special forces seen during the evacuation of a house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Israeli special forces seen during the evacuation of a house in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dozens of police officers sought to remove a Palestinian family from their home in Sheikh Jarrah on Monday in order to confiscate the land for public use, in what would be the first eviction in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood since 2017.

Tensions ran high at the site starting Monday morning. As soon as police arrived, the Salihiya family barricaded themselves inside their home. Police bulldozed a plant nursery belonging to the family on the plot, while they negotiated with residents over their home.

Family patriarch Mahmoud Salihiya, standing next to a canister of fuel on the roof, threatened to burn himself alive, taking his house with him, rather than let himself be evicted.

“We won’t leave. We’ll either live or die. I’ll burn myself with fuel,” Salihiya said in a video circulating on social media.

Five Palestinians were detained during the day-long standoff, according to local activists on the scene. But as night fell, police forces largely withdrew from the scene with the Salihiya home still intact — although the eviction order still stands, and may be enforced at any time over the next two weeks.

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 eviction 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 groups.

In the case of the Salihiya family, however, the home and plant nursery are being expropriated by the Jerusalem municipality under eminent domain rather than being claimed by individual Jewish residents. The city says it plans to build a special needs school and several kindergartens on the site.

The Salihiya family arrived in East Jerusalem as refugees from Ein Karem after the 1948 War of Israeli Independence. Mahmoud lives on the plot with his wife, who was born an Israeli Jew, and nine other family members.

“They’re doing this for the ‘public good’? What public good? They’re so concerned about [Palestinian] Jerusalemites?” Mahmoud asked reporters as the evening chill set in over the neighborhood.

Jerusalem has around 350,000 Palestinian residents, who constitute around 38 percent of the city’s population. But the municipality provides far fewer public services in Jerusalem’s Palestinian areas, especially in neighborhoods beyond the security fence.

In 2017, the Jerusalem city hall 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.

“Since the ruling, the family has been given countless opportunities to hand over the land by consent, but they have refused to do so, even after repeated extensions, meetings and attempts at dialogue,” the Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement.

A large open plot of around four dunams had until recently been present for public use just around the corner. But it was allocated for an ultra-Orthodox religious school, even though the neighborhood is mostly Palestinian.

Around 650 meters from their house, “there was an open plot in Sheikh Jarrah that the city said it didn’t need, and so they relinquished it to build an Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in the middle of Sheikh Jarrah,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim.

Palestinians resisting an eviction by the Jerusalem municipality stand on the room of their home in Sheikh Jarrah on Monday, January 17, 2022 (courtesy)

European diplomats — many of whose countries have missions in the neighborhood — arrived in the neighborhood in mid-morning to back the Salihiya family.

“Imperative to deescalate the situation and seek a peaceful resolution. Evictions/demolitions are illegal under international law and significantly undermine the prospects for peace as well as fuel tensions on the ground,” the European Union’s mission to the Palestinians said in a statement.

As reports of the standoff trickled into Israeli media, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev took to Twitter to criticize the Palestinians and their left-wing Israeli supporters.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too — to demand that the municipality act for the welfare of Arab residents and oppose the construction of institutions for their welfare,” Barlev wrote.

Tatarsky scoffed at Barlev’s argument, charging that the municipality could build much-needed schools in East Jerusalem without evicting the Salihiya family.

“The municipality should simply find another place to build the school, rather than expelling a family and expropriating their home. When you build a road, for example, you may have fewer options, but a school? There are many open plots in Sheikh Jarrah,” said Tatarsky.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed