Sheikh Jarrah: Israeli police evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem home

Israeli police have evicted a Palestinian family and demolished their house in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Officers raided the Salhiya family home before dawn, arresting several people before a bulldozer moved in.

There had been a two-day stand-off after the head of the family threatened to blow up his house rather than move.

Israeli officials said the building was illegal – something the family denied – and the land was needed for a school.

The case had drawn international attention, with the European Union and UK warning that evictions in occupied territory were illegal under international law and fuelled tensions on the ground in Jerusalem.

Both Israel and the Palestinians hold competing claims to the ancient city.

Israel – which occupied the formerly Jordanian-held eastern part in 1967, and effectively annexed it in 1980 in a move not recognised internationally – regards the whole of Jerusalem as its capital.

Palestinian leaders want East Jerusalem – which is home to about 350,000 Palestinians and 200,000 Jewish settlers – to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says this was the first eviction in Sheikh Jarrah since 2017. However, unlike other local cases, it did not involve a takeover by Jewish settler groups.

Instead, the Jerusalem Municipality said the Salhiya’s house was built illegally in recent years on land designated for a school for Palestinian children with special needs.

“The evacuation of the area has been approved by all the courts, including the Jerusalem District Court,” the municipality and the Israel Police said in a joint statement.

“Since the evacuation order was issued in 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.”

Israeli activists opposed to the eviction pointed out that a nearby plot, which remains empty, was previously taken to build a school and then given to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish organisation for a seminary.

The Salhiya family disputed that their home was built illegally and said that they had lived there since the 1950s.

A lawyer for the family, Walid Abu Tayeh, told AFP news agency that the demolition was illegal because the municipality had only received permission from the court to clear the property. He added that a court had been due to hear an urgent request to stop the eviction on Sunday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the demolition a “war crime” and warned that the Israeli government “bears responsibility for its dangerous repercussions”.

Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir said the Salhiyas had been turned into “two-time refugees” because they were expelled from their home in the West Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ein Kerem during the war that followed Israel’s creation in 1948.

The British consulate, which is located across the road from the demolition site, tweeted on Monday: “Evictions in occupied territory are against international humanitarian law in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

“The UK urges the government of Israel to cease such practices which only serve to increase tensions on the ground.”

Back in May, eviction battles in Sheikh Jarrah stoked some of the worst violence between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem in years.

They also helped spark an 11-day conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which fired rockets at the city from Gaza in what it said was partly a response to Israeli “harassment” in Sheikh Jarrah.