Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family and demolished their home in a pre-dawn raid on Wednesday in the flashpoint east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. They arrested 18 Palestinians and Israeli activists during the operation.
The raid came after members of the Salhia family had gone on the roof with gas canisters and threatened self-immolation over the pending loss of their property.
The family had been fighting the threat of eviction since 2017 when the Jerusalem municipality allocated the land for a school for Palestinian children with special needs as well as six kindergartens and other public facilities.
Mohammed Salhia and his wife Lital, who is Jewish, have lived in a large compound for decades, claiming Mohammed’s father bought the land prior to the Israeli takeover in 1967. A lawyer representing the family claimed the demolition took place even though an urgent petition against the move was due to be heard in court next week.
Israeli courts had earlier ruled that the family was squatting illegally and had failed to produce any proof of ownership.
“We do this for any structure that is built illegally. It happens in west Jerusalem and it happens in east Jerusalem,” said Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hasson-Nahoum.
The international community, including the European Union, had called on Israel to allow the family to remain.
Some 300 Palestinians in the neighbourhood, considered one of the most desirable in east Jerusalem, are threatened with eviction after Israeli courts rejected their claims to be allowed to stay in homes they have lived in for decades.
Israeli courts ruled that the Palestinians were squatting illegally and for most of the properties Jewish families, coordinated by a right-wing, religious organisation, are ready to move in to replace them.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called the demolition a "war crime" and warned that the Israeli government "bears responsibility for its dangerous repercussions".
The left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called for escalating “all forms of resistance” against Israel in the aftermath of the demolition, warning Israel against proceeding with its alleged plan to “Judaise” Sheikh Jarrah and Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has about 350,000 Palestinian residents – 38 per cent of the city’s population – and Palestinians seek the Arab neighbourhoods captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
In May last year the threat to evict Sheikh Jarrah families led to some of the worst violence between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem in years.
It was also one of the contributing factors to the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas, which fired rockets at Jerusalem from Gaza in what it said was partly a response to Israeli "harassment" in Sheikh Jarrah.