JERUSALEM: Israeli police were in a standoff on Monday with a Palestinian family that threatened self-immolation on the roof of their home in a Jerusalem flashpoint district as they faced eviction.
Several members of the Salhiya family remained on the roof of their house with a gas cannister into the evening, with security forces heavily deployed on the street in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
“The family climbed onto the roof of the house and has threatened to set fire to themselves and the house if the occupation (Israeli) forces take control of it,” Muna ElKurd, an activist from the neighbourhood, said.
“The family has lived in this house for decades,” added ElKurd, who was among the dozens of supporters and diplomats who arrived at the house that was surrounded by Israeli security forces.
The Salhiya family has been facing the threat of eviction since 2017, when the land where their home sits was allocated for school construction.
Police and the Jerusalem municipality said in a joint statement that delegates went to the home to carry out the eviction after the Salhiyas ignored “countless opportunities” to vacate the land as ordered.
“We’ve been in this home since the 1950s,” said Salhiya family member Abdallah Ikermawi from the roof.
“We don’t have anywhere to go,” he said in quotes provided by the Sheikh Jarrah Committee organisation, adding that the family was made up of 15 people, including children.
Among the onlookers was a delegation of European diplomats led by Sven Kuhn von Burgsorff, the head of the European Union’s mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The EU is very clear - in occupied territory, evictions are a violation of international humanitarian law, and that is true for any eviction or any demolition being ordered, including this one,” he said.
An 11-day war between Israel and armed Palestinian factions in Gaza erupted last year, fuelled by anger in Sheikh Jarrah where families battled eviction orders.
Witnesses said that clashes between security forces and locals erupted after the police arrived, but later eased.
Hundreds of Palestinians are facing evictions from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and other east Jerusalem neighbourhoods. Circumstances surrounding the evictions threats vary.
In some cases, Jewish Israelis have mounted legal challenges to claim the land they say was illegally taken during the war that coincided with Israel’s founding in 1948.
Palestinians have rejected these claims, saying their homes were legally purchased from Jordanian authorities who controlled east Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.
Seven Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have taken their legal challenges against their eviction threats to Israel’s Supreme Court. The Salhiyas are not in that group.
Jerusalem City councillor Laura Wharton, who was at the scene, criticised the municipality’s actions.
“They could have built the schools in the same plot without moving the families. There is plenty of space,” she said.
“The sad thing is this is the municipality itself doing this, it’s not some right wing settlers.” Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, in a move not recognised by the international community.
More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have since moved into the area, fuelling tensions with Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2022