Israeli police ended up on Monday with a Palestinian man carrying a gas canister up to the roof of his home in a flashpoint district in Jerusalem when his family was facing eviction. Residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood threatened to blow up their homes instead of forcing their families out.
Israeli media reported that Mohammed Salhiya had threatened to set himself on fire if the eviction order from the Sheikh Jarrah area in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem was carried out. Salhiya’s family has been facing a threat of eviction since 2017, when the land where his home is located was designated for school construction.
Police and the Jerusalem municipality said in a joint statement that delegates went to the home early Monday to carry out an eviction decision after Salhiyas ignored “countless opportunities” to evacuate the land according to orders.
Crowds of police in riot gear surrounded the property from early in the morning for an hour-long break. Roads were blocked off around the area, about a kilometer north of Jerusalem’s old city wall, where clashes often broke out last year between Palestinians and Jewish settlers.
The municipality of Jerusalem expropriated the land, in an area that Israel conquered and occupied in a war in 1967, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, and later annexed it, in a move that was not recognized by the international community.
An Israeli court ruled in favor of the eviction.
“I will burn up the house and everything in it, I will not leave from here, from here to the grave, for there is no life, no dignity,” Salhiya said as he stood on the roof of the building, surrounded by gas tanks. “I have been in conflict with them for 25 years, they sent me settlers who offered to buy the house and I did not agree.”
“We’ve been in this home since the 1950s,” said another Salhiya family member, Abdallah Ikermawi, from the roof of the house. “We have nowhere to go,” he said in a quote from the Sheikh Jarrah Committee’s organization, adding that the family consisted of 15 people, including children.
A symbol of Palestinians
Sheikh Jarrah, a tree-lined area with sandstone houses, foreign consulates and luxury hotels, has become an emblem of what Palestinians see as an Israeli campaign to force them out of East Jerusalem.
An 11-day Gaza war between Israel and the Palestinians broke out last year, fueled by anger in Sheikh Jarrah where families were fighting eviction orders.
Police said their “dealer” was at the Salhiya home after several residents of the house “began to fortify themselves with a gas container and other flammable materials”.
Witnesses told AFP that clashes between security forces and locals erupted after police arrived but later eased.
Israeli Interior Minister Omer Bar-Lev said on Monday that a court had ruled that the case was an illegal squat. “One can not hold the stick at both ends by both demanding that the municipality take measures for the welfare of Arab residents and oppose the construction of educational institutions for their welfare,” Bar-Lev wrote on Twitter.
Hundreds of Palestinians are facing evictions from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
The circumstances surrounding the eviction threat vary.
‘Lots of space’
In some cases, Jewish Israelis have filed legal challenges to claim the land they claim was illegally seized during the war that coincided with Israel’s founding in 1948. Palestinians have denied the allegations, saying their homes were legally purchased from Jordanian authorities that controlled East Jerusalem between at 1948 and 1967.
Seven Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have taken their legal challenges against their threat of eviction to the Israeli Supreme Court. The Salhiya family is not in that group.
Jerusalem City Councilor Laura Wharton, who was at the scene and would meet the Salhiya family later on Monday, criticized the municipality’s actions.
“They could have built the schools on the same plot without moving the families. There is plenty of space,” she said. “The sad thing is that it is the municipality itself that does this, it is not right-wing settlers.”
Britain calls on Israel to “cease”
As Sheikh Jarrah residents and activists monitored the situation from nearby rooftops, the British consulate in East Jerusalem, opposite the home, tweeted that Consul General Diane Corner had joined other diplomats to “testify about the ongoing eviction”.
The consulate said that such evictions in occupied territory, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, were contrary to international humanitarian law. It called on the Israeli government to “stop using methods that only serve to increase tensions on the ground.”
More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have moved to East Jerusalem since its annexation, fueling tensions with Palestinians, who claim the area as the capital of their future state.
( Jowhar with AFP & REUTERS)