JERUSALEM – Palestinian residents of a flashpoint east Jerusalem neighborhood were locked in a tense standoff with Israeli authorities on Monday as police came to evict them from a disputed property.
Several residents of a home in Sheikh Jarrah climbed onto the roof of the building with gas tanks and threatened to set them alight should the Jerusalem municipality follow through with the eviction. They come down from the roof late Monday after Israeli police and work crews appeared to have backed off.
Dozens of Palestinian families in east Jerusalem are at risk of eviction by Jewish settler organizations, and thousands face the threat of demolition because of discriminatory policies that make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to build new homes or expand existing ones.
In separate, unrelated developments on Monday, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian who allegedly tried to stab a soldier, and a 69-year-old Palestinian died from his injuries after being run over by an Israeli tow truck during a demonstration in the occupied West Bank earlier this month.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized by most of the international community. Israel considers the entire city to be its capital, and the municipality says it is working to improve services for all residents.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, and the city's fate is one of the most divisive issues in the century-old conflict.
In Monday's standoff, members of the Salhiya family say they purchased the property before 1967, while the state has argued against the family's claims in court. The Jerusalem Municipality formally seized the property in 2017 for the purpose of building a special needs school, but the family continued to operate a plant nursery there.
A Jerusalem court ruled last year in favor of the city and authorized the eviction. The family has appealed and is awaiting a ruling, but the judge did not freeze the eviction order.
Israeli work crews demolished a nearby plant nursery owned by the family but did not touch the house. Police said there were no immediate plans to demolish the house, and Laura Wharton, a dovish member of the city council, said efforts were underway to reach a compromise.
Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the European Union representative in the area, said the planned evictions were illegal and that the EU's position had been relayed to Israel.
The standoff also drew an angry reaction from neighboring Jordan, which ruled east Jerusalem before Israel captured it in 1967 and which still serves as the custodian over the city’s Muslim holy sites.
Haitham Abu Al-Foul, spokesman for Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, said the planned evictions are “a flagrant violation of international law” and “undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.”
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 to serve Palestinian children in the neighborhood.
The municipality issued a second statement later Monday, saying the 18-classroom school was planned in the central location to facilitate “all the Arab neighborhoods in the area.” It said the family had “invaded” the land and built a private business and temporary building without authorization.
“Contrary to the family's claim, the buildings they have erected were built illegally in recent years only,” it said, claiming the family had rejected “countless opportunities” to resolve the dispute.
Omer Barlev, the Israeli Cabinet minister in charge of police, said the government faced a no-win situation.
“You can’t have it both ways — to demand that the municipality act for the welfare of the Arab residents, and also to oppose the construction of educational institutions for their welfare,” he wrote on Twitter.
But Ir Amim, an Israeli rights group that 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 authorized construction of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary.
“The municipality appears to perceive it as reasonable and fit to dispossess a Palestinian family for the sake of a school rather than utilizing open land initially allocated for such purposes,” it said.
Other threatened evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods, which are tied up in decades-old legal battles between Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers, set off protests and clashes last year that eventually helped ignite the 11-day Gaza war.
A 2020 survey by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that at least 218 Palestinian households have eviction cases filed against them, mostly by settler groups. In the previous three years, over 60 Palestinians from 15 households were evicted, OCHA said.
Most Palestinians live in crowded, underserved neighborhoods where they say it is virtually impossible to get building permits from Israeli authorities. That forces many of them to build without authorization — risking demolition — or relocate to the occupied West Bank.
In a separate incident, the Israeli military said a Palestinian man attempted to stab a soldier at a major intersection on a West Bank highway south of Jerusalem and was shot. The Palestinian Health Ministry said Falih Jaradat, from the southern West Bank, died after being shot by Israeli forces at a junction south of the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Also Monday, a 69-year-old Palestinian activist died from his injuries after being run over by a tow truck during a Jan. 5 demonstration against Israeli forces in the southern West Bank. The Palestinian Health Ministry said Suleiman al-Hathaleen died from wounds to his head, upper body and pelvis.
The Israeli military said its forces were operating with the tow truck to remove unregistered vehicles when protesters hurled rocks at them and tried to block them in. It said that as the forces withdrew, one of the demonstrators “jumped on the tow truck, fell to the ground and was hurt.” It said the circumstances were too dangerous for the troops to stop and provide first aid.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, which provides services across the West Bank, had condemned the incident last week and called on Israel to investigate it.
It said al-Hathaleen had been peacefully protesting on the road and would have been clearly visible to the driver and the Israeli soldiers. It said the truck “drove over him and dragged his body for several meters (yards) without stopping.”
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem and Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.