In a bid to quell tensions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Benny Gantz are seeking to delay a court hearing on the pending eviction of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which has fueled recent violence in the capital, according to Hebrew media reports on Saturday.
Over 70 Palestinian residents are threatened with eviction and could be replaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists, in a legal battle being waged in the courts. The case has been cited as one of the key issues sparking violent protests in Jerusalem, including some of the worst clashes seen in years on the Temple Mount compound on Friday and further violence Saturday.
The Israeli Supreme Court will consider an appeal on the case on Monday, which coincides with Jerusalem Day, when tens of thousands of Jewish nationalists are expected to march through the Old City of Jerusalem to mark 54 years since its capture during the Six Day War.
Gantz, who is also defense minister, and Netanyahu discussed the possibility of trying to postpone the court hearing to reduce tensions, according to the Kan public broadcaster. They have asked the attorney general whether such a move is legally viable.
The US State Department has expressed concern over the looming Sheikh Jarrah evictions. Jalina Porter, a State Department spokesperson, said during a telephone briefing: “We are deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in the Silwan neighborhood and in Sheikh Jarrah, many of whom have lived in their homes for generations.”
Over half a dozen House Democrats have also issued statements in recent days condemning the Israeli policy as well as the police crackdown on protests against it.
“The United States must speak out strongly against the violence by government-allied Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and make clear that the evictions of Palestinian families must not go forward,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in a tweet, seemingly referring to far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir.
The United States must speak out strongly against the violence by government-allied Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and make clear that the evictions of Palestinian families must not go forward.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 8, 2021
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, denounced the looming evictions as “abhorrent and unacceptable.”
“The Administration should make clear to the Israeli government that these evictions are illegal and must stop immediately,” she said.
New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also slammed Israel over the “inhumane” evictions, tweeting: “Israeli forces are forcing families from their homes during Ramadan and inflicting violence.”
We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Israeli forces are forcing families from their homes during Ramadan and inflicting violence.
It is inhumane and the US must show leadership in safeguarding the human rights of Palestinians.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 8, 2021
Egypt has also asked Israel to hold off on the evictions, according to Al-Arabiya.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Friday accusing the Palestinian Authority of “presenting a real estate dispute between private parties, as a nationalistic cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem,” adding that Ramallah would bear responsibility for any violence that ensued.
An Israeli court has ordered the Palestinian families to leave, as the property was owned by a Jewish religious association before 1948. A 1970 Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim property in East Jerusalem from before it fell into Jordanian hands; no similar law exists for Palestinians.
According to Ir Amim, a left-wing human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, around 200 families in East Jerusalem are now under threat of eviction, with cases slowly marching through administrative bodies and Israeli courts. Around 70 of those families live in Sheikh Jarrah.
The neighborhood has long been a focal point of Jewish-Arab tensions. A small Jewish community lived in the area before 1948, when East Jerusalem fell under Jordanian control. Home to a shrine revered as the final resting place of Shimon Hatzadik, a third-century BCE high priest also known as Simeon the Just, the neighborhood is often visited by Jewish pilgrims.
On Thursday night, far-right MK Ben Gvir pitched a tent outside one of the neighborhood’s few Jewish-owned homes. The Religious Zionism lawmaker, who entered the Knesset thanks to a merger of ultra-nationalist parties orchestrated by Netanyahu, said he would use the space as an office until police did more to protect the areas Jewish residents.
Ben Gvir agreed to pack up on Friday after police informed him that they would place reinforcements at the site. Speaking to the Srugim website on Saturday night, he hailed the bolstered security as a “victory” and said, “Sometimes stubbornness pays off.”
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, in a move not recognized by most of the international community.
The current wave of Palestinian protests broke out at the beginning of Ramadan three weeks ago when Israel restricted gatherings at Damascus Gate, at a popular meeting spot at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel removed the restrictions, briefly calming the situation, but protests have reignited in recent days over the threatened evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.
Other recent developments include the postponement of Palestinian elections by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, which Palestinians blame on Israel’s alleged refusal to let a vote be held in East Jerusalem.
Tensions have been rising across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza for the past several weeks.
On Friday, three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Border Police troops in the northern West Bank. Two of them were killed in the firefight and a third was critically injured. Israeli military officials said the three were en route to carry out a “major” terrorist attack on civilians inside Israel, with reports saying they were heading for Jerusalem.
Israeli yeshiva student Yehuda Guetta was shot in a Palestinian terror attack in the West Bank on Sunday before he died of his wounds on Wednesday night. Israeli security forces arrested a suspect in his killing.
On Wednesday, Palestinian health officials said 16-year-old Palestinian teenager Said Odeh was shot and killed by Israeli forces who said he was throwing Molotov cocktails at troops.
Palestinian terrorist groups have threatened Israel over the Jerusalem tensions.
Agencies contributed to this report.