Israeli police carried out a demolition order and arrested over a dozen people in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah early Wednesday morning, heading off a two-day struggle between a local family and the Jerusalem Municipality.
Five years ago, the municipality announced that it was expropriating the land to build a school there. Since then, the Salhiye family has fought a legal battle to head off their eviction, but they have been unable to prove ownership of the property. In any event, even if they could prove that they own the land, the municipality has the right to expropriate it for public purposes in exchange for monetary compensation.
The police raided the house around 3:30 A.M. and violently evicted the family and activists, using stun grenades. At least 18 people were arrested, according to Attorney Walid Abu Thaya, who represents the family.
Most of the detainees were released shortly after, on the condition that they do not return to the house. According to the police, all of the suspects were involved in the standoff on Monday, where the attempted eviction prompted the father, Mahmoud Salahiya, to barricade himself on the roof with his children and threatening to blow up a gas tank, managing to stave off the eviction.
"It was a brutal act," said Abu Thaya, "We were in the process of appealing to the courts, including the High Court, but the police in the service of the Jerusalem Municipality were determined to carry out their mission, in their eyes, to evacuate the compound."
On Thursday afternoon, Israel Police requested from Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to extend the detention of the father, Mahmoud Salhiye, and four other family members by five days, but the court rejected the request on the grounds that they no longer pose a threat to themselves or the public after their home was demolished.
The police filed an appeal with the district court, but it was rejected, and the remaining family members were released on Thursday on the condition that they do not enter Sheikh Jarrah for a month.
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Meanwhile, clashes broke out between police and demonstrators during a protest against the evictions on Thursday evening outside Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon's home, with the police arresting five people.
The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas slammed the forced eviction, dubbing it a "war crime," and urged the U.S. to "take responsibility and intervene immediately to stop these crimes."
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement condemning the demolition. "The U.S. administration must intervene and implement its promises and obligations to Palestinians in East Jerusalem including the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to provide them with protection and prevent house demolitions and harassment."
The statement further stressed the need to reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem in order to send a message to Israel.
Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, Chairman of the Joint List, slammed the demolition and charged, "The settlers, municipality, and government are cooperating against a two-state solution and against peace."
Free Jerusalem rights group said that "the eviction of the Salhiye family, using severe violence, and the arrest of family members and activists, is an escalation of the state's policies of occupation and expropriation of Palestinians' homes."
Mahmoud Salhiye and his wife Lital, who is Jewish, have lived in a large compound in the neighborhood for decades; they say Mahmoud's father bought the land prior to 1967. The government has said in the past that the land is part of the Kerem Hamufti plot that belonged to Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the former grand mufti of Jerusalem, and was likely used for storage. The land was confiscated in accordance with Israel's Absentee Property Law, according to which the family has no rights to it.
A year ago, Jerusalem District Court Judge Anat Singer ruled in favor of the municipality and allowed the eviction to proceed. Five days ago, the lawyer representing the family, Ahmed Kadamani, submitted an urgent request to cancel the eviction, claiming that the eviction order only relates to the parents, and not to the other members of the family.
Judge Einat Avman-Muller of the Jerusalem District Court requested the municipality’s response but did not issue an order that would delay carrying out the eviction order.
Against the backdrop of the eviction, a discussion has also taken place over the historical significance of the building. While the building appears in aerial photos of the area from World War I and on maps from the British Mandate in the 1930s, the municipality played down any historical value, claiming the building was illegally constructed by the family. The demolition of the structure ran counter to decisions made by the local planning committee, and without securing the proper permits for demolishing buildings.