Israeli police have forcibly removed a Palestinian family from their home in Sheikh Jarrah, the flashpoint occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood where the issue of evictions helped trigger a round of fighting between Israele and Hamas last year.
Around a dozen police officers arrived at the Salhiya family’s house in the early hours of Wednesday, dragging the 15 occupants outside and then demolishing the structure with a bulldozer. The eviction was the first to be successfully carried out in Sheikh Jarrah in nearly five years.
Yasmin Salhiya said in a social media post that some of them had been beaten, including her nine-year-old sister. Other Sheikh Jarrah residents at the scene said the police used rubber bullets and detained about 25 persone, including five members of the family. In a joint statement with the Jerusalem municipality, police said several people were arrested on suspicion of violating a court order and disturbing the peace.
Wednesday’s raid came after police first tried to remove the family earlier this week. Officers were enforcing a court-approved eviction order of “illegal buildings built on [public space] designated for a school for children with special needs … which can benefit the children of the entire Sheikh Jarrah community,” the police and Jerusalem municipality said.
The first attempt on Monday resulted in clashes between protesters and police and a tense standoff after Mohammed Salhiya took to the roof of the house carrying gas canisters, threatening to set himself and the building on fire if Israeli forces entered.
“We will not flee again. We have nowhere else to go. You expelled us once already in 1948. We either die in our home or we live. We are not leaving,” Salhiya said on Tuesday.
For many Palestinians, the fight over Sheikh Jarrah – a relatively wealthy, predominantly Arab neighbourhood in East Jerusalem bordering both the Old City and West Jerusalem – goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Control of the area touches on the wider issues of jurisdiction over the holy city, the rights of Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied territory, and the Palestinian right to return.
Last May’s 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip that left 254 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel dead was partly sparked by anger over Sheikh Jarrah eviction orders which would make way for Jewish settlers. Demonstrations spiralled into some of the worst violence across Israel and the Palestinian territories in years.
Circumstances surrounding eviction threats vary. In some cases, Jewish Israelis have mounted legal challenges to claim the land they say was illegally taken during the war that coincided with Israel’s founding in 1948.
Palestinian residents dispute this, saying the land was guaranteed to them by Jordan in exchange for giving up their refugee status before Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967.
Seven families in Sheikh Jarrah have taken challenges against eviction threats to Israel’s supreme court in decades-old legal battles, but the Salhiyas are not among that group.
While the family are still waiting for the outcome of a final appeal against a ruling in 2017 in favour of the Jerusalem municipality expropriating the land, the eviction order itself had not been frozen.
Di 200 more families in East Jerusalem are at risk of displacement due to eviction orders. Tensions on the ground are fuelled by the presence of approximately 200,000 Jewish settlers now living in the area.
According to the UN, the rate of Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem increased by 21% nel 2021 compared with the previous year.