Lawmakers from the majority-Arab Joint List and the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party faced off Sunday in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah with walls of police officers dispatched to separate between the sides.
Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir arrived in Sheikh Jarrah in what they said was a demonstration of solidarity with the handful of Jewish families in the almost exclusively Palestinian neighborhood. The area has seen intense clashes for over a week as mainly Arab protesters have demonstrated against efforts by ultranationalist Jewish groups to evict dozens of families in Sheikh Jarrah.
The handful of Jewish residents have been exposed to an uptick in violence from demonstrators who disapprove of their presence, which came at the expense of Palestinian families who were evicted.
In a statement to the large throng of reporters at the scene, Smotrich called the decision to delay a hearing that could have led to the eviction of four Palestinian more families in Sheikh Jarrah “an enormous disgrace.”
מפגינים פלסטינים ניסו למנוע מחברי הציונות הדתית לעבור בשייח גראח. המשטרה פינתה את הדרך pic.twitter.com/VP0CQTWlt7
— Maya Horodniceanu (@mayahorodnicean) May 10, 2021
“The police have abandoned Jerusalem,” Ben-Gvir added.
Meanwhile, Palestinian demonstrators could be heard chanting, “Jerusalem is Arab” farther down the street.
Joining those demonstrators in solidarity with the Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah residents were Joint List MKs, including Ahmad Tibi, Aida Touma-Sliman, Sami Abou Shehadeh and Ofer Cassif.
Footage from the scene showed police shoving Touma-Sliman and other demonstrators back as the MK shouted, “Shame on you!” and warned that she was a lawmaker and hence holds parliamentary immunity.
שייח גראח פינת כנסת ישראל pic.twitter.com/Dq3GgfyB6y
— Maya Horodniceanu (@mayahorodnicean) May 10, 2021
Israel’s Supreme Court was slated to a hearing on Monday on an appeal by four Palestinian families against their evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. However, following pressure from senior government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who were concerned the session would further fan the flames of tension in the city, the court announced the cancellation of the hearing.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit office also asked the Supreme Court for two weeks to consider the matter after the Palestinian families asked him to become a party to the case.
The court gave Mandelblit until June 8 to consider whether he will become a party to the case. The planned evictions — already approved by lower courts — will not go forward in the interim.
“A new date will be determined within the next 30 days. In the meantime, until further notice, I order a freeze on the decision by the appellate court, which does not imply any position regarding [that lower court’s decision],” Justice Yitzhak Amit wrote in the ruling.
In all, over 70 Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah are set to be evicted in the coming weeks, to be replaced by right-wing Jewish Israelis. The Palestinians live in houses built on land that courts have ruled were owned by Jewish religious associations before the establishment of Israel in 1948.
According to Ir Amim, a left-wing human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, around 200 families in East Jerusalem are under similar threat, with cases slowly moving through administrative bodies and Israeli courts.
The 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 in East Jerusalem from before 1948.
For its part, the 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.
Sheikh Jarrah 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.
The anticipated decision to evict the families came as Jerusalem lives through tense, violent days. The city has been on edge in recent weeks, as Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police, with both sides blaming the other for igniting the confrontations.
The altercation at Sheikh Jarrah was one of many that were taking place Monday.
Hundreds of Palestinian protesters and at least 21 police officers were injured throughout Monday morning in fierce clashes on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, according to medical officials and police.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 305 people were hurt in the confrontation between Palestinians and police, as the latter burst onto the Temple Mount. The Israel Police said rioters had been hurling rocks and other objects from the holy site and launching fireworks at officers, leading them to enter the compound, a relatively uncommon move by Israeli security forces.
Riot police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
Around 205 Palestinians were hospitalized, of whom seven were in serious condition, the first aid organization reported. At least 21 police officers were injured, including one who required hospitalization, police said.
At certain points during the clashes, the police emptied the Temple Mount and temporarily barred people from returning, but eventually let them back in.
The riots came shortly after police on Monday morning decided to bar Jews from entering the flashpoint holy site on Jerusalem Day, due to spiraling tensions in the capital, drawing fury from right-wing legislators, and support from the left.
Police also changed the route for an annual parade by nationalist Jews through the capital in order to limit the chances of direct confrontations between the participants and the Muslim residents of the Old City, despite initially saying they had no plan to alter the event.
The so-called Flag March was barred from entering the Old City through the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter. Instead the parade was instructed to enter the Jaffa Gate and proceed from there to the Western Wall.
The decision was made at the orders of Israel’s political echelon, following a situational assessment with the country’s security services. The Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service, and Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians all said they believed that the intended route was likely to result in violence.
The Temple Mount is considered holy by both Muslims and Jews. The site contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the third holiest site in Islam — and is revered by Jews as their holiest site, where both biblical Temples stood. Jews have been barred from entering the site in recent days amid the tensions, which coincide with the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.