The Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah have had very few reasons for joy in recent years. The bad news continued to hit in a series of consecutive blows: Another family is served an eviction notice; another judge rules against them; Settlers or the city submit another construction plan for the benefit of Jewish residents; police invent a new means of dispersing protests.
On Monday night, the East Jerusalem neighborhood looked different for a moment, filled with smiles, hugs and a sense of relief. Residents sang and celebrated with Palestinian flags. Someone handed out baklava, another brought a loudspeaker.
The battle for Sheikh Jarrah has been a long and exhausting conflict fought on several fronts: The courts, the public and diplomatic arena, and in the street against right-wing activists and the police.
On Monday, Sheikh Jarrah received a slight respite. But this break benefits more than Sheikh Jarrah. With the mostly technical ruling by Jerusalem Magistrate Court Judge Gad Arenberg, all of Jerusalem got a respite. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from police officers throughout the city, who had been preparing for another round of violence and clashes.
The countdown to the eviction of the Salem family was set to begin in eight days. Their eviction was disturbingly set to align with the holy month of Ramadan, which begins in early April. Ramadan 2022 was shaping up to look a lot like Ramadan 2021.
Again, there were eviction threats in Sheikh Jarrah, again far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir arrived in the neighborhood to stir up trouble, again Hamas was making threats, and again the Jewish and Muslim holidays were aligning (last year Ramadan coincided with Independence Day, this year with Passover).
All the ingredients for a conflict had been added to the bowl and were just waiting to be stirred. Over the past few weeks, anyone who knows anything about Jerusalem, either east or west, has been lamenting the coming Ramadan and the potential for an outburst of violence.
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- The East Jerusalem flashpoint that could ignite the entire Middle East
If all goes as planned, Monday’s decision will delay the eviction at least until after Ramadan. At least one component of the tension has been removed. In light of the police’s announcement that they will not erect checkpoints at the Damascus Gate plaza, as it did last year, there is hope that Jerusalem has been spared another bout of violence. For the Jerusalem of recent years, this is not to be taken for granted.
However, it is still too early to celebrate. In Jerusalem, as per Murphy’s law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and there is abundant cause for concern. The impromptu parliamentary office set up by Ben Gvir is a landmine that has yet to be defused. The office still stands and the police have created a sort of sterile zone around it, only permitting entry to local residents, Knesset members and journalists.
By the checkpoint, there is constant friction between right-wing Jewish activists, Palestinians and police. The situation could deteriorate in the blink of an eye, and any incident involving casualties could radically change it.
Just the other day, policemen were documented forcibly dragging Muhammad Ejloni, a 22 year-old with Down’s syndrome who could hardly understand what the officers wanted from him. On the other side of the Old City, in the Jabal Mukkaber and Silwan neighborhoods, tensions are rising rapidly as the city plans to destroy dozens of structures built without permits. Sheikh Jarrah is still awaiting the Supreme Court ruling regarding the eviction of three other families.
Nobody has emptied the powder keg, but the match has been removed from the scene, for now. We’ll take it.