• Wednesday, Aug 04, 2021
  • Last Update : 11:44 pm

How a Jerusalem neighbourhood reignited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

  • Published at 05:53 pm May 10th, 2021
Jerusalem Al Aqsa clash 2021
known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 10, 2021 Reuters

Hundreds of Palestinians are injured in some of the worst violence in the city for years

Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for an escalation in violence not seen here in years, as an incendiary land dispute is waged both in the Israeli Supreme Court and on the streets of an East Jerusalem neighbourhood.

The feud unfurling in the mostly Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Israelis claim to own the property on which mostly refugee Palestinian families have lived for decades is resurfacing old scenes: Mounted Israeli police firing rubber bullets at stone-hurling Palestinian protesters. Israeli settlers, who call the area Nahalat Shimon, are moving to displace some 70 Palestinians in what they are calling an effort to reclaim their ancestral land.

"There are two issues which cut to the core of the identity of both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people: displacement and Jerusalem," said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney specializing in Jerusalem politics. "It's all there in this limited space of Sheikh Jarrah, and once you put them together, it's nuclear fusion."

Also Read: Hundreds wounded in new Jerusalem clashes

More than 250 Palestinians have been injured over the weekend in clashes with Israeli police in Sheikh Jarrah and on the Temple Mount, which houses the al-Aqsa Mosque and has long served as a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Abdel Fattah Sqaffe, a 71-year-old resident of Sheikh Jarrah whose 14-member household is among the six facing eviction, said the uptick in violence feels similar to other periods preceding major fighting.

"I think if this continues, if they continue to try to occupy us, it can spark war in all of Israel, both sides of the Green Line, and all of the region," he said.

As Ramadan comes to a close this week and the Sheikh Jarrah eviction cases progress in the courts, both the Israeli and Palestinian political systems are deeply in flux. Israeli security chiefs have increased police presence throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Also Read: US expresses serious concerns about Jerusalem clashes, evictions of Palestinians

On Saturday, Israeli police blocked several buses of Palestinians headed to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan. Hundreds of Palestinians complied with the police orders and walked the rest of the way to Jerusalem, chanting down the highway, "in spirit, in blood, we will take back al-Aqsa!"

That night, some 90,000 Palestinians attended prayers at the Temple Mount. Some then clashed with Israeli police in both Sheikh Jarrah and around al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Gaza-based Islamic militant group Hamas retaliated by launching a rocket into Israel. The Israeli military then struck a Hamas military post in southern Gaza and on Sunday closed Gaza's fishing zone in response to "the violence committed against the country's citizens," the army said in a statement.

"We salute the people of al-Aqsa, who oppose the arrogance of the Zionists and we call on our people in Palestine to support their brothers by all means," tweeted Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas leader.

Also Read: Israel plays for time on flashpoint Jerusalem evictions

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert told Kan news on Saturday that "a kind of intifada is brewing, which is possible to prevent," using the word for a Palestinian mass uprising.

Israel's response to the Palestinian protests, including the firing of rubber bullets within the al-Aqsa Mosque, has drawn condemnations from around the world.

"Violence breeds violence," Pope Francis told pilgrims at Saint Peter Square in Rome. "Stop clashes."

Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, expressed "solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem."

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday that any Israeli evictions in East Jerusalem could be considered "war crimes."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country could build where it wanted in its capital.

"Jerusalem is Israel's capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem," he said in a televised statement. "That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do."

Also Read: Clashes, prayers in Jerusalem on Muslim Laylat al-Qadr

The flare-up coincides with preparations for Jerusalem Day on Monday, the national holiday celebrating Israel's capture of eastern Jerusalem in 1967, during which far-right Israelis march through Arab parts of the city and have in past years shouted slogans such as "Death to Arabs."

At the request of Israeli security chiefs citing security concerns, the Supreme Court announced that it would delay its decision on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, originally scheduled for Monday.

The Israeli settlers moving to evict the Palestinians and bulldoze the neighbourhood to make room for 200 housing units are relying on a 1970 Israeli law that gives Jewish Israelis the right to reclaim East Jerusalem properties owned by Jews before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinians who lost their land do not have the same right.

History scholars say a small Jewish community existed for thousands of years in Sheikh Jarrah around the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, an ancient Jewish high priest, but fled the area when the city was divided in 1948 between Israel and Jordan. In 1956, Jordan and the United Nations built 28 small homes at Sheikh Jarrah, east of the Green Line, to house Palestinian refugee families. They were joined over time by others. The Palestinians paid rent to a "general custodian," first under Jordan and then, after Israel conquered the land in 1967, under Israel.

Chaim Silberstein, the president of the pro-settler advocacy group Keep Jerusalem, was involved in raising international funds for the purchase of the properties in 1998 by the pro-settler Nahalat Shimon organization. He said the Palestinian residents of the neighbourhood were "squatters" who have refused offers of compensation for their displacement.

Also Read: UN: Possible Israel war crimes in east Jerusalem land right case

"The Arabs see this as a challenge to their desire to get a Palestinian state, a capital in East Jerusalem," said Silberstein. "But it's a legal issue, which they've lost."

There have been no evictions in the neighbourhood since 2009, when the US government and international community pressured the Israeli government to halt such moves. But the court cases started again in recent years in response to a series of gestures to the Israeli settler movement by the Trump administration, said Sami Abu Dayya, a Palestinian resident of Sheikh Jarrah.

"The law is made for the Jewish population, not made for us," said Abu Dayya, whose parents settled in the neighbourhood after the war in 1948.

His land, near his Ambassador Hotel, is slated for eviction at the end of the month. He says he has little legal recourse.

"We will see families made into refugees again," he said.

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