Israeli police demolished the home of a Palestinian family and arrested at least 18 people as they carried out a controversial eviction order in the sensitive east Al-Quds neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah early on Wednesday.
The looming eviction of other families from Sheikh Jarrah in May last year partly fuelled an 11-day war between Israel and armed Palestinian factions in Gaza.
Before dawn, Israeli officers went to the home of the Salhiya family, who were first served with an eviction notice in 2017, after courts ruled the house had been built illegally. Jerusalem authorities have said the land will be used to build a school for children with special needs, but the eviction may raise tension in a neighbourhood that has become a symbol of Palestinian opposition to Israeli occupation.
Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said the dispute surrounding the Salhiya’s home is “completely different” from the events in May, when Palestinians risked being forced to hand over plots of land to Jewish settlers.
Israeli police said they had “completed the execution of an eviction order of illegal buildings built on grounds designated for a school for children with special needs”.
“Members of the family living in the illegal buildings were given countless opportunities to hand over the land with consent,” a police statement said. A bulldozer raked through rubble hours after the home was destroyed.
A police spokesman said 18 family members and supporters were arrested for “violating a court order, violent fortification and disturbing public order,” but no clashes took place during the eviction.
When police arrived to carry out the order on Monday, Salhiya family members went up to the building’s roof with gas canisters, threatening to set the contents and themselves alight if they were forced out of their home.
Police had eventually backed off, but returned early Wednesday amid heavy rainfall in Jerusalem.
Salhiya family lawyer Walid Abu-Tayeh said the police had “illegally” arrested 20 people during the operation, six of them Israeli citizens, with the latter being released, adding that “the Arab detainees were assaulted.” The authorities “want to liquidate the (Palestinian) population” of Jerusalem, he said.
Abu-Tayeh also confirmed reports that the Palestinian father Mahmud Salhiya is married to an Israeli Jew, named Meital.
In an audio recording distributed to local Arab-language media, Meital, who speaks Arabic, said the family was woken early Wednesday by the sound of loud booms and police had cut the electricity. “They took me out of the house with my daughter and children who were crying, and arrested my husband and all the young men,” she said.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, blasted the demolition as an Israeli act of “aggression”. The Palestinian Authority, based in the occupied West Bank, called it a “crime”, as part of the Jewish state’s move to “Israelise” Jerusalem.
Deputy mayor Hassan-Nahoum said the plot that the Salhiya family claim as theirs belonged to private Palestinian owners who then sold it to the city, “for very adequate compensation.” The municipality plans to build “a much-needed special needs school for Arab children from the neighbourhood,” she said.
Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir labelled “the forcible expulsion of the Salhiyeh family” as “war crimes.” He noted that the family had previously been forced from their west Jerusalem home during Israel’s creation in 1948, and Wednesday’s eviction made them “two-time refugees”.