At 3 A.M. on Wednesday, when temperatures in Jerusalem had plunged below zero degrees Celsius, around 100 police officers arrived at the Salhiya family home in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
They disconnected the electricity and stormed in using stun grenades. Within a few minutes, they had evicted all the residents. Eighteen people were arrested, both members of the family and activists who had come to help them. Immediately afterward, the house was demolished by a bulldozer belonging to the Jerusalem municipality. It was razed despite the fact that part of it is a historic building – the part built in the late 19th century (Nir Hasson, Haaretz, January 19).
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The municipality claims the family was squatting in the building illegally and that the city needs the land to build a special education school for East Jerusalem’s children. The family claims it has been living there since 1948 and that it has documents proving its right to the house.
The family’s claims were rejected by the courts, but nobody disputes that it has been living there for many years and that it was possible to build the school without evicting them, since Sheikh Jarrah has another open area that could have been used. But on that site, the municipality approved construction of a yeshiva, which obviously won’t serve the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents.
The expropriation of privately owned land in order to build public institutions is sometimes a necessary evil, and the fact that the Jerusalem municipality has decided to invest in building a school for the city’s Palestinian children should be welcomed. But the family’s eviction from their home through use of an eminent domain order is an extremely unusual step. And the haste and aggressiveness with which the municipality acted shows its attitude toward East Jerusalem residents. It’s hard to imagine it acting similarly toward a Jewish family in West Jerusalem.
The eviction was condemned by the United States and the European Union. But there’s no need for such condemnations to see this eviction as an aggressive step against Palestinian residents of the capital. It comes on top of extreme police brutality in East Jerusalem, efforts by settler activists to push out Palestinian residents under the auspices of discriminatory laws, and discrimination against these residents by all government agencies.
Mayor Moshe Leon must work to repair his relationship with Palestinian residents of the city through dialogue and investment, not through cops and bulldozers.
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The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.