US pans eviction of Palestinian family from Sheikh Jarrah home

Biden envoy joins rest of retooled UN Security Council in describing move as likely to undercut peace efforts, but Israel says family booted from house in Jerusalem ‘stole land’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Israeli forces stand by the ruins of a Palestinian house demolished in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem on January 19, 2022 (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Israeli forces stand by the ruins of a Palestinian house demolished in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem on January 19, 2022 (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The US envoy to the United Nations expressed concern over the eviction of a Palestinian family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Wednesday, but Israel’s envoy defended the move as a municipal enforcement action against law-breakers.

The comments from US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a Security Council session marked the first comments from US President Joe Biden’s administration on the removal of the Salihiya family from a home in the flashpoint neighborhood hours earlier.

“To make progress [toward peace], both Israel and the Palestinian Authority must refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” Thomas-Greenfield said during a monthly Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “That includes annexations of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, and evictions – like what we saw in Sheikh Jarrah – incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”

The UN’s Middle East special envoy Tor Wennesland and almost every other member state at the forum condemned the expulsion of the family, some with forceful language.

“I call on Israeli authorities to end the displacement and eviction of Palestinians, in line with its obligations under international law, and to approve additional plans that would enable Palestinian communities to build legally and address their development needs,” Wennesland said.

Before dawn, Wednesday, Israeli police evicted the Salihiya family and demolished their home, arresting 18 Palestinians and Israeli activists at the scene that unfolded before dawn.

The 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.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media in Ankara, Turkey, on June 4, 2021. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)

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 war between Israel and Hamas terrorists, who threatened violence should Palestinians be removed from their homes.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan defended the eviction, saying the Salihiya family “stole public lands for their own private use.”

“This is a municipal issue that has gone through all of the respected channels of the independent Israeli legal system, yet nevertheless, the Palestinians use this issue – and the UN’s Pavlovian anti-Israel response for their own political gains,” Erdan lamented.

The Salihiyas contest the land being zoned for public use, saying they have lived there since the 1950s on a plot purchased from private Arab landlords.

Moreover, opponents of the eviction point to a large, open plot of land 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) away from the house that could have been used to build special needs school and kindergartens that the city seeks to erect. Instead, the Jerusalem municipality relinquished the plot to an Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva, which plans to build a campus in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood.

In this file photo taken on May 05, 2021, Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, holds a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister following a meeting in Moscow on May 5, 2021. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / POOL / AFP)

Despite the criticism, Thomas-Greenfield also lamented the council’s “singling out of Israel,” while reiterating the Biden administration’s support for a two-state solution.

PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki warned that the situation on the ground would continue to deteriorate so long as the the international community does not take steps against Israel, a common refrain.

“Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights and defiance of the international community has continued for so long because it can rely on the fact that there will be criticism and condemnation, but there won’t be consequences,” he said.

He warned that failure to take concrete actions to salvage a two-state solution would leave a one-state reality, with equal rights for Jews and Arabs between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, as the only viable option for Palestinians to push.

“This is a time for action. It’s time for peace, not apartheid,” Maliki said, in an apparent reference to the title of former US president Jimmy Carter’s 2006 book on the conflict.

Gilad Erdan holds a rock during a UN Security Council session on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on January 19, 2022. (Screen capture/UN)

Erdan blasted the PA for failing to condemn Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, while panning UN member states for their “hypocrisy” in criticizing Israel while remaining silent regarding Palestinian violence.

The Israeli envoy brought with him a large rock, holding it up during his speech as an example of the stones hurled at Israeli vehicles traveling through the West Bank and East Jerusalem in recent months.

“Terror attacks with rocks – not little stones – but rocks like this that are thrown at Israelis in their cars and on buses. They are thrown at Israeli men and women, at Israeli babies and children. Every. Single. Day,” he said. In 2021 alone, Israelis suffered 1,775 rock attacks by Palestinian terrorists, but the world says nothing.”

Thomas-Greenfield also used the forum to reflect on the hostage standoff at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas over the weekend.

“The harrowing events in Colleyville, Texas, this past weekend… remind us that we all must work together to stand against antisemitism and extremism,” she said. “The United States will continue to champion justice for victims of antisemitism, and for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”

The meeting was the first on the Middle East since the Security Council rotated five new countries into the body to replace five countries whose terms were up.

Israel and allies have welcomed the council’s new makeup, which now includes only countries that have ties with Jerusalem, including the United Arab Emirates.

“For the first time in many years, all members of this Council have diplomatic relations with the State of Israel,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “This is a testament to the important shifts underway in the Middle East, and indicative of Israel’s contributions on the world stage. Let us avail ourselves of this opportunity to move beyond our standard talking points and identify ways to support the parties in pursuit of a sustainable and lasting peace for all of their people.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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