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Israeli Police Evacuate, Demolish Disputed East Jerusalem Home

The Israel Police early Wednesday morning demolished a house in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood after evicting a Palestinian family from the disputed property where, earlier in the week, family members held a tense standoff with the police.

The police said in a statement that it had carried out “an eviction order of illegal buildings built on grounds designated for a school for children with special needs from eastern Jerusalem.” The statement said that the evacuation of the area had been approved by the courts, and that “members of the family living in the illegal buildings were given countless opportunities to hand over the land with consent, but unfortunately they refused to do so, even after meetings and repeated dialog attempts by the Jerusalem municipality.”

During Wednesday’s eviction, 18 people were arrested on suspicion of “violating a court order, violent fortification and disturbing public order,” the Israel Police said.

On Monday, when the police first arrived to carry out the court-ordered eviction, members of the Salihiya family climbed onto a roof of the house with gas tanks and gasoline, threatening to blow themselves up.

They are among the dozens of Palestinian families in the neighborhood who face eviction based on a property dispute that predates the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel. According to the left-wing Ir Amim organization, some 300 Palestinians are currently under threat of eviction in Sheikh Jarrah.

Israeli Jews who are trying to evict Palestinian residents from properties in the neighborhood say they purchased the properties from Jewish trusts and that the land in question was bought by Jews in 1876. But when Jordan took over the territory in the 1948 war, the Jewish residents fled to the Israeli side of the armistice line, and Jordan settled Palestinian refugees, who had fled from Haifa and Jaffa on the Israeli side of the line, in the then-empty homes. In 2017, the Jerusalem Municipality formally seized the property that was evacuated Wednesday morning, with the intention of building a special needs school, but the family stayed and continued to operate a plant nursery there. Last year, a Jerusalem court ruled in favor of the municipality and issued an eviction order. The family’s attorney appealed on Tuesday to Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn the order.

Wednesday’s eviction and demolition took place despite international objections.

The US State Department, in a May 2021 statement, said it was “deeply concerned” about the threatened evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, as well as Silwan, another east Jerusalem neighborhood, and added, “It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace. This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”

The European Union Delegation to the Palestinians protested the threatened evictions and demolitions in the neighborhood, asserting that they were “illegal under international law and significantly undermine the prospects for peace as well as fuel tensions on the ground.”