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Palestinian family expelled by Israeli police from sensitive East Jerusalem neighborhood

In the middle of the night, by two degrees below zero, an excavator dispatched by the Jerusalem city hall ended up destroying the house of a family of Palestinian florists, located in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in East Jerusalem, on Wednesday January 19th. For three days, the head of the family, Mohammed Salhiya, had been climbing relentlessly on the roof of his house, where he had placed gas canisters and a jerry can of gasoline. He threatened to set it on fire if the police tried to evict him.

This is the first time since 2017 that Palestinians have been driven out of this sensitive neighborhood. Located on the edge of the Arab part of the Holy City occupied by Israel since 1967, the State has set up administrative buildings there (border police, court), and the justice system allows the establishment of settlers there.

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The latter benefit from a law authorizing a Jew or his heirs, but not an Arab, to claim ownership of land from which he was expelled during the 1948 war, at the birth of Israel, when the city was divided in two. Some 70 families in this narrow, wooded valley are now threatened with eviction. In May 2021, their struggle was the catalyst for a brief national Palestinian uprising, accompanied by a new war in Gaza.

In this cauldron, the expulsion of the Salhiya has precedent value. Neighborhood activists are not mistaken: on Monday, when the first demolition machines appeared, Muna Al-Kurd, spokesperson for the May demonstrators, who is resisting the expulsion of her own family, had come to denounce, close to his neighbour, “ethnic cleansing” in progress at Sheikh Jarrah. “Their policy will lead to a massacre, but they don’t care”, she said, predicting a new conflagration.

Ambiguous case

Palestinian human rights organizations and the Israeli left are in unison. They fear that the right will exploit this expulsion, arguing that if the fate of the Salhiyas does not cause further unrest, other families may well follow.

The case of the Salhiyas is however distinct, isolated, more ambiguous. The father is Palestinian, the mother Jewish Israeli. Their house, present on maps of Jerusalem from the beginning of the XXand century, is located on a hillside, formerly known as “the mufti’s vineyard”. The land has long belonged to the family of a Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin Al-Husseini. This figure of Palestinian nationalism, compromised with Nazi Germany during the Second World War, owned a villa in this countryside.

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