Once again, Palestinians and Israeli security forces fought fierce street battles in Jerusalem over the weekend. At least 300 Palestinians were injured, according to the Red Crescent aid organization. Israeli police, in turn, counted 18 injured officers in their ranks. Observers speak of the most violent riots in years.
The riots have several flashpoints. At the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Israeli police had set up barriers at the Damascus Gate, which leads into the Muslim quarter of the Old City. Traditionally, Palestinians gather there in the evening during Ramadan. Many saw the barriers as a provocation. Protests continued for weeks until the police recently removed the barriers. But by then the situation was already too heated.There is also another area of conflict: the Sheich Jarrah neighborhood in the northeast of the city. For years, a legal dispute has been going on there between Palestinian families and a company called Nachalat Shimon. In recent years, the company has purchased real estate in Arab-majority East Jerusalem with the aim of settling Jewish families there - even though the Palestinians and most of the international community regard East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The land in question in Sheich Jarrah once belonged to Jews who fled their homes during Israel's 1948 War of Independence. Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, subsequently settled Palestinians there. Under Israeli law, Jewish Israelis can claim land property from which they or their ancestors once fled. There is no comparable right for Palestinian refugees. On this legal basis, Nachalat Shimon demands the evacuation of several houses in Sheich Jarrah. The residents are suing against this.
Palestinian and Israeli activists have been protesting the eviction for years. But in the wake of recent tensions, the conflict has become symbolic. In Arab cities inside Israel, as well as in Gaza, scores of people have demonstrated in recent days against the threat of eviction. On Saturday night, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a rocket toward Israel, after which the Israeli army bombed a base of the terrorist organization Hamas.
Some 200 families in Sheich Jarrah are affected by possible evictions, and in some cases the decision is imminent. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Israel on Friday to "immediately halt all forced evictions."Several Arab states also condemned Israel's actions in Sheich Jarrah. Unusually harsh criticism came from the United States. "The forced evictions of longtime Palestinian residents in Sheich Jarrah are abhorrent and unacceptable," Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter. Her party colleague, Senator Bernie Sanders, called on his administration to speak out "strongly against violence by Israeli extremists allied with the government."
In response to the criticism, Israel's Foreign Ministry said, "Regrettably, the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian terror groups are portraying a real estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist issue to incite violence in Jerusalem."To avoid a further escalation of the situation, Israel's Supreme Court yesterday canceled a hearing on the conflict over Sheich Jarrah that had been scheduled for today, Monday. However, this merely postpones the feared escalation.
Photo by Pawel Janiak