The United Nations urged Israel on Friday to call off any pending evictions in East Jerusalem, warning that its actions could amount to “war crimes.” Israel dismissed the tensions as a “real estate dispute.”
“We call on Israel to immediately call off all forced evictions,” UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.
His comment came after 15 Palestinians were arrested in East Jerusalem overnight in clashes with police and Israelis over an eviction threat against four Palestinian families.
The second straight night of rioting in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was fueled by a years-long land dispute between Palestinians and right-wing Jewish nationalists in the strategic district near Jerusalem’s Old City.
A long-running legal case over the homes of four Palestinian families on land claimed by Jews is due to go before the Supreme Court on Monday.
“We wish to emphasize that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which international humanitarian law applies,” Colville said.
“The occupying power… cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory,” he said, adding that transferring civilian populations into territory considered occupied under international law was illegal and “may amount to war crimes.”
Colville demanded that Israel halt actions that “further contribute to a coercive environment or leads to a risk of forcible transfer.”
“We further call on Israel to respect freedom of expression on assembly, including with those who are protesting against the evictions, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force,” he said.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement pushing back on criticism of the pending evictions and accused the Palestinian Authority and terror organizations of fanning the tensions.
“Regrettably, the PA and Palestinian terror groups are presenting a real estate dispute between private parties, as a nationalistic cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem,” it said. “The PA and Palestinian terror groups will bear full responsibility for the violence emanating from their actions. The Israel police will ensure public order is maintained.”
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, also weighed in on Friday, saying “Israel’s continuation of its illegal practices and provocative steps” in the city is a “dangerous game.”
“Building and expanding settlements, confiscating lands, demolishing homes and deporting Palestinians from their homes are illegal practices that perpetuate the occupation and undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace, which is a regional and international necessity,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi tweeted.
The latest clashes followed violence on Wednesday night, when 22 Palestinians were wounded, according to the Red Crescent. Police said they had made 11 arrests.
The recent tensions have raised fears of sparking a wider conflict, with the Hamas terror group in Gaza warning of renewed violence over the issue.
Dozens of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah may be removed from their homes in the coming weeks if the Supreme Court turns down their appeal against a pending eviction. They are likely to be replaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists who say the Palestinian homes were built on land owned by Jewish associations before the establishment of the State of Israel.
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 3rd century BCE high priest also known as Simeon the Just, the neighborhood is often visited by Jewish pilgrims.
According to the Association for Human Rights in Israel, around 358,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, the portion of the city captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967, where they have residency rights but generally not Israeli citizenship. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The same area is home to 225,000 Jewish Israelis, most of whom reside in newer Jewish neighborhoods such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo.
But nationalist Jews have long sought to expand the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods — whether through covert purchases of Palestinian homes, court-ordered evictions, or the construction of de facto Jewish-only housing projects — creating settlement-like enclaves within the neighborhoods.
Colville stressed that “Israel cannot impose its own set of laws in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.”
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 district court ruling infuriated Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, who viewed it as a further step in what they see as an Israeli effort to drive Arabs out of East Jerusalem.
The Supreme Court had called on the sides to seek a compromise by Thursday, but when that failed it announced it would hold a new hearing on Monday, during which it is expected to rule on whether the Palestinians can appeal the district court decision.