In Depth

What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah - and why has Jerusalem erupted into violence?

Tensions rise amid anger at threatened expulsion of Palestinian families

Violent clashes have taken place outside the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem as a planned Jewish nationalist march adds to rising tensions over the planned eviction of Palestinian families in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem.

“More than 200 people were injured” in and around the mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, “as crowds threw stones and officers fired stun grenades in response”, the BBC reports.

The violence “comes amid soaring tensions in the city”, the broadcaster adds, “which has seen weeks of unrest” related to the planned evictions of Palestinian families and the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March, which marks Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Sheikh Jarrah evictions

Tensions have been heightened across Jerusalem for weeks as the city awaited a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court on the eviction of six Arab families from a contested neighbourhood in the district of East Jerusalem. 

“Protesters have gathered nightly in Sheikh Jarrah,” The New York Times (NYT) reports, “clashing with riot police and far-right Israeli groups” over what they consider to be an attempt to “remove thousands of Palestinians from strategic areas in East Jerusalem”.

“They don’t want Arabs here, or across East Jerusalem,” Abdelfatah Skafi, 71, one of the Palestinians facing eviction, told the NYT. “They want to expel the Arabs, and that way they will be able to surround the Old City.”

Jewish settlers argue that the Palestinians are “squatters” and that the area, “which is built beside the tomb of a Jewish high priest from antiquity”, was occupied by Jews until the establishment of Israel in 1948, the paper adds. 

Aryeh King, deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a leading member of the settler movement, said: “If you are the owner of the property and somebody is squatting on your property, wouldn’t you have the right to take him out from your property?”

“Amid daily violent clashes”, the Supreme Court has cancelled a hearing scheduled for today that “could have determined” whether the families would be evicted, The Times of Israel reports. “A new date will be determined within the next 30 days,” said Justice Yitzhak Amit.

The UN’s human rights office has urged Israel to halt any forced evictions, saying its actions could amount to “a war crime”. 

“We wish to emphasise that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which international humanitarian law applies,” a UN statement said. “The occupying power… cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory.”

The EU has also called for calm, with a spokesperson saying “violence and incitement are unacceptable and the perpetrators on all sides must be held accountable”. A US State Department spokesperson also said that it is “critical to avoid unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace”, adding: “That would include evictions, settlement activity, and home demolitions,” reports AP

Palestinians stand by a burning barricade during clashes with Israeli police

Palestinians stand by a burning barricade during clashes with Israeli police

Amir Levy/Getty Images

Prominent members of the Democratic Party, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have also “condemned Israel” over the pending evictions, The Times of Israel reports.

“The United States must speak out strongly against the violence by government-allied Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and make clear that the evictions of Palestinian families must not go forward”, Sanders tweeted.

Warren said that the evictions are “abhorrent and unacceptable”, while Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that moving the families is “inhumane”, adding: “Israeli forces are forcing families from their homes during Ramadan and inflicting violence”.

Amid vocal support from pro-Arab nations across the globe, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, the continuing talk of eviction has also “prompted an ominous threat from the military wing of Hamas”, the Islamists that control the Gaza Strip, the NYT says.

The group has warned that “the enemy”, meaning the state of Israel, “would pay a very heavy price” if measures to remove Arabs from Sheikh Jarrah were not stopped, the paper adds.

Flag march

More than 300 Palestinians have been wounded in the confrontations, including several who were struck by rubber-tipped bullets in the head, eye and jaw, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. 

More than 20 Israeli officers have been injured, while footage released by the Israeli police shows an Israeli driver hitting a Palestinian with their car after demonstrators attacked the vehicle with sticks and rocks.

The Supreme Court had been due to sit today in a hearing that would have coincided with Jerusalem Day, “a holiday commemorating Israel’s conquest of the city in 1967 from Jordan that is mostly celebrated by national religious Jews”, The Times of Israel says.

 Israeli Jewish men walk by Damascus Gate during Jerusalem Day celebrations

Israeli Jewish men walk by Damascus Gate during Jerusalem Day celebrations

Amir Levy/Getty Images

Pro-settler groups “typically mark” the event “with a provocative march through Arab areas”, the NYT says. However, “Israeli police decided to bar Jews from visiting the compound” where Al-Aqsa mosque is located during this year’s march, the BBC adds.

The mosque is in an area called the Temple Mount by Jews. It is “the holiest site in Judaism” as it was “the original home of the second temple destroyed by the Romans in AD70”, the Financial Times reports. “Many Jews worship at the Western Wall, the surviving part of the temple, and face its direction during prayers.”

“Thousands of Palestinians barricaded themselves in the building overnight” armed with “stones and Molotov cocktails in anticipation of a confrontation” with Israeli settlers, said the BBC. 

Israeli police entered the mosque this morning to “repel the rioters using demonstration dispersal methods”, the broadcaster continues, with police firing stun grenades for “over an hour”. Videos posted online show some stun grenades appearing to land inside prayer rooms.

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