Sheikh Jarrah Standoff Ends as Police Evict Palestinian Squatters
Police eviction was the Sheikh Jarrah’s first since 2017.
By Pesach Benson, United With Israel
A standoff between Israeli police carrying out a court-ordered eviction notice and a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah ended in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday. Police raided the house and evacuated the people there without incident.
The Palestinians living there had barricaded themselves inside and threatened to kill themselves by blowing up gas cylinders on the roof rather than be removed from the eastern Jerusalem property when police first arrived on Monday. According to Hebrew reports, the police left the premises on Tuesday evening, prompting family members to come down from the roof. The police returned and raided the house at 3:00 AM.
They were arrested for violating a court order and “violent entrenchment.”
The eviction ended years of legal wrangling over the fate of the property. Although the land was zoned for public use more than 40 years ago, Mahmoud Salhia and his family lived in one home while his sister, Alma lived in the other. Neither home was built with a permit. When the Jerusalem municipality decided in 2017 to build a special needs school on the land, the family ignored court orders to leave, as well as police efforts to resolve the situation peacefully.
The homes were demolished after the Salhia left were taken off the premises. Police made 18 arrests, mostly family members, but also some left-wing Israeli and Palestinian activists.
The family insists it purchased the property in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence but had not registered it with Jordan before the Six-Day War of 1967. After the war, Israel annexed eastern Jerusalem. Israeli courts recognize Palestinian ownership of property that was registered with Jordan prior to 1967.
According to Hebrew reports, the eviction was the first carried out in the neighborhood since 2017.
“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,” said a statement issued by the municipality.
“The family’s illegal takeover of public space prevented hundreds of children with special needs from East Jerusalem from receiving an educational service that the municipality seeks to provide,” it added.
Not the Only Disputed Property
The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is also known as Shimon HaTzaddik, after the Second Temple High Priest who is buried there. Jews had been living in this area of Jerusalem since the 1890s.
The standoff took place in the same neighborhood where a separate higher-profile controversy continues to drag out at a different compound which Palestinian squatters also refuse to vacate.
In the 1930s, that compound was purchased by Nahalat Shimon, an association that developed the land for Yemenite and Sephardic Jews.
During the War of Independence, Jordan captured Jerusalem’s eastern neighborhoods and Jordanian families moved in. Some built new houses on the land in Sheikh Jarrah. The Jordanian Ministry of Housing also appropriated land to build houses for Arabs in the neighborhood.
That changed when Israel reunified Jerusalem during the Six-Day War of 1967. In a legal process that has dragged out for decades, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 1982 in favor of the Sephardic Community Committee of Sheikh Jarrah landowners. The ruling cited a 1970 law permitting Jews to reclaim property in eastern Jerusalem if it had been purchased before 1948.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled again in favor of Nahalat Shimon, saying that the squatters were required to pay rent.
Successive governments never enforced the Supreme Court ruling. The refusal to evict the families is widely attributed to political pressure and the fear of Arab violence.
However, some of the Palestinian families have recently acknowledged Jewish ownership.
Commenting on the Salhia eviction, Jerusalem Deputy Fleur Fleur Hasson-Nahoum stressed, “This is not the same as the Sheikh Jarrah cases as a few months back, even though everyone is conflating them into one thing.” While the Salhia family had illegally built their homes on public land, the other compound is privately owned.
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