Palestinians and Jews clashed in East Jerusalem's flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Thursday after the far-right, Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir relocated his office there in what he called a protest against police's failure to protect Jewish residents.
Dozens of Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah have faced potential eviction for years, amid intensified efforts from right-wing settler groups that assert the land was owned by Jews before 1948, when Israel was founded. The threat of eviction has led to frequent protests.
Over the past week, dozens of Palestinians have gathered nightly for the evening meal breaking the Ramadan fast across from one of the buildings that settlers have moved into, where Ben-Gvir set up his makeshift, outdoor office.
Minutes after the meal began, Palestinians and Ben-Gvir supporters began cursing one another. When one of the Palestinians got close to the other group, he was pepper sprayed. Palestinians then began throwing chairs and rocks at the Jews, who threw stones in return before fleeing into the building. Two young Palestinians dismantled the improvised office and tore down the banner hanging over it.
A police spokeswoman said in a statement that police were active in Sheikh Jarrah following "a protest that quickly escalated into violence, with stones being thrown at police and passing vehicles, shooting fireworks, and, in several cases police and civilians were attacked."
Incidents referenced by the spokeswoman included a vehicle pelted with stones and set on fire, an attack on passersby near a light rail station, and a man who was attacked and slightly injured.
The spokeswoman said that during the violence in Sheikh Jarrah, "15 suspects were arrested for disorderly conduct, rioting, throwing stones and objects and assaulting police officers and civilians. The Israel Police will not succumb to provocations, and will continue to allow any person, wherever he is, the freedom to protest within the limits of the law. At the same time, we will respond severely to violations of the law."
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Earlier Thursday, lawyers representing Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah told the Supreme Court that locals were unable to reach a compromise agreement with settlers in talks to avert intervention by the court. Attorneys Sami Ersheid and Salah Abu Hussein told the court that no deal had been reached in negotiations that were mandated as part of a Palestinian appeal of a lower court ordering them to evacuate their homes.
Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez decided that a panel of judges would rule on the appeal within four days and that no one would be evacuated from their homes in the meantime. If the appeal is turned down, scores will be forced to give up their homes by the end of Ramadan in another week. Another 200 people could face evictions in August.
Rightist groups claiming that the land on which the Palestinians built their houses was owned by Jews before the 1948 War of Independence instigated the eviction processs. The agreement that the two sides sought to reach would have included mutual recognition – the Palestinians would have recognized Jewish rights to the land and the Jews would have recognized the Palestinians’ right of residency.
Over the last few months, rightist organizations have enjoyed a string of legal victories in their nearly 15-year legal battle to evict the Palestinians. Last October, Jerusalem Magistrates Court Judge Dorit Feinstein ruled in favor of the Nahalat Shimon Co., ordering 25 people from four families to be evicted. In November, Jerusalem Magistrates Court Judge Liat Benmelech rejected a petition by 32 members of the Sabbagh family to delay implementing a court order evicting them from their homes.
The land in Sheikh Jarrah, adjacent to the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik, was bought by Jews in the late 19th century. Right-wing activists established the Nahalat Shimon company, which bought the rights to the land from the Sephardi Community Committee and Ashkenazi Community Committee. The company has spent years trying to evict the local Palestinian residents.
The Palestinian families were settled there by the Jordanian government in the 1950s. Most of them were refugees from the 1948 war who had owned property inside Israel. However, the state confiscated their assets under Israel’s Absentee Property Law. Thus, they are not entitled to get their properties back in the way that Jews, even if they aren't related to the original owners, are legally able to obtain formerly Jewish-owned properties in East Jerusalem.