A Palestinian man whose family is facing forced displacement by Israeli police from their home in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah has threatened to blow up gas canisters rather than be forced out.
Scores of police in riot gear surrounded the property from early on Monday during an hours-long standoff. Roads were sealed off around the area, about one kilometre (half a mile) north of Jerusalem’s Old City walls – the site of frequent protests by Palestinian residents facing imminent displacement from their homes.
“I will burn the house and everything in it,” Mahmoud Salhiyeh said as he stood on the roof of the building, surrounded by gas canisters. “I will not leave here, only from here to the grave, because there is no life, no dignity.”
“I’ve been in battle with them for 25 years, they sent me settlers who offered to buy the house and I did not agree.”
As the afternoon stretched on, Israeli forces backed by bulldozers and special units demolished a plant nursery belonging to the family. At least two Palestinians were arrested as Israeli soldiers assaulted people who had gathered around the house in solidarity with the Salhiyeh family.
The Salhiyeh family is fighting its forced displacement for the second time. Before the family moved to Sheikh Jarrah, it was forcibly displaced from the Ein Karem village in West Jerusalem in 1948.
The family said it bought the property in Sheikh Jarrah before 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, while the state has argued in court that the family does not have rights to the property. The Jerusalem Municipality formally seized the property in 2017 for the purpose of building a special needs school, which Salhiyeh described as a “pretext for public interest”.
A Jerusalem court ruled last year in favour of the city and authorised the forced eviction. The family has appealed and is awaiting a ruling, but the judge did not freeze the eviction order.
City Hall and the police issued a joint statement saying the court ordered the family to vacate the property a year ago. The municipality said the property is to be used to build the school, which is to serve Palestinian children in the neighbourhood.
Sheikh Jarrah, the Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem that is facing imminent ethnic cleansing, also has the highest concentration of international diplomats in the city. Where are they?
— Dr. Yara Hawari د. يارا هواري (@yarahawari) January 17, 2022
Israeli Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said a court had ruled the case was one of illegal squatting.
“You can’t hold the stick at both ends by both demanding that the municipality take action on welfare for Arab residents and oppose the building of educational establishments for their welfare,” Bar-Lev wrote on Twitter.
However, Israeli human rights group Ir Amim – which follows developments in Jerusalem – said that in recent years the city gave up a different plot of land in Sheikh Jarrah originally designated for a Palestinian school and instead authorised construction of an ultra-Orthodox men’s seminary.
“The municipality appears to perceive it as reasonable and fit to dispossess a Palestinian family for the sake of a school rather than utilisng open land initially allocated for such purposes,” it said.
A tree-lined area of sandstone homes, foreign consulates and luxury hotels, Sheikh Jarrah has become an emblem of what Palestinians regard as an Israeli campaign to forcibly displace them from East Jerusalem.
As Sheikh Jarrah residents and activists monitored the situation from nearby rooftops, the British Consulate in East Jerusalem, located opposite the home, tweeted that Consul-General Diane Corner had joined other diplomats to “bear witness to the ongoing eviction”.
The consulate said that such evictions in occupied territory, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, were against international humanitarian law. It urged the Israeli government to “cease such practices which only serve to increase tensions on the ground”.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. It later annexed the eastern half of the city – home to most of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population – in a move not recognised by most of the international community.