|Today (19 January), the Israeli authorities, escorted by the police and paramilitary forces, forcibly evicted overnight the Salahiya family, consisting of 12 individuals, including five children, from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. The authorities proceeded to raze their homes and all remaining structures on their property. Demolitions had begun the day prior, including the destruction of a plant nursery located on their land. Approximately 20 individuals were arrested, among them, members of the family. The Jerusalem Magistrates Court recently rejected the police's request to extend the family members' arrest, but has given the police until 16:00 today to appeal the decision.
Last week, an urgent appeal was filed to the Jerusalem District Court against the family's impending eviction, yet the court did not grant an injunction freezing the eviction order. Therefore, the eviction order was still in effect this week. A hearing on the appeal was scheduled at the District Court for January 23, 2022. However, the state has now filed a motion to dismiss since the appeal is no longer relevant given the family's eviction and mass demolition of their property.
While most eviction lawsuits in Sheikh Jarrah are initiated by state-backed settler groups aiming to establish Jewish enclaves in the neighborhood, the eviction demand against the Salahiya family was filed squarely by the Israeli authorities. The Jerusalem Municipality is the Israeli body who sought the eviction of the Salahiya family under the pretext that their property is necessary for the construction of educational institutions for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The municipality formally expropriated the property in 2017 for such purposes and thereafter initiated eviction proceedings against the family.
After the Jerusalem District Court dismissed one of the family's appeals in January 2021, Mahmoud Salahiya's household was handed an eviction order at the end of December 2021 by the Enforcement and Collections Agency. The eviction order was for any time between January 10-25, 2022.
Members of the Salahiya family are Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from their home in Ein Karem in 1948 and have now been displaced for a second time. Unlike Jews who can reclaim assets lost in East Jerusalem in 1948, the family has no legal recourse of retrieving or returning to their property in Ein Karem. According to the family, their parents purchased the plot of land in Sheikh Jarrah and have lived on the property since before 1967. There are reportedly disputed ownership claims of the land, and the courts have consistently ruled against the family, embroiling them in a longstanding legal battle over their property.
Who Receives the Empty Plots of Land in Sheikh Jarrah?
Although Israeli law allows for the expropriation of private property for public purposes, it is typically only carried out in the absence of alternative options. The authorities have had various options at their disposal, including use of other plots of open land in the neighborhood, which would not have necessitated the Salahiya family's eviction. Rather than using such plots, the municipality saw it reasonable to dispossess a Palestinian family to meet such needs.
While the municipality expropriated the family's property to build schools, it transferred an empty plot of land in Sheikh Jarrah, allocated for such purposes, to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish association for the construction of a yeshiva. In 2007, the municipality relinquished the plot, allowing the Israel Land Authority to allocate it to the yeshiva without a transparent tender process. The plan for the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva (Plan No. 68858), also known as the Glassman Yeshiva, calls for the construction of an eleven-story building, including a dormitory for hundreds of ultra-Orthodox students. If constructed, the yeshiva will serve to significantly increase the number of settlers in the neighborhood.
According to the outline plan for Sheikh Jarrah, this plot of land was originally designated for public buildings to serve neighborhood residents, such as educational institutions. This plot still remains empty today. While the yeshiva plan has advanced in the approval process over the past few years, it has not yet received final approval from the District Planning Committee. There is therefore no reason why the municipality could not retrieve the parcel of empty land and re-allocate it for the purpose of Palestinian educational institutions while compensating the ultra-Orthodox association.
Moreover, if the municipality insisted on going forward with its plan for the Salahiya family's property, it could have agreed to establish the planned schools on a section of the land, while allowing the family to remain safely in their homes. Indeed, according to the municipality's plan, construction of the schools is not intended for the location of where the houses once stood.
Beyond constituting a grave violation of International Law, the actions of the Israeli authorities reveal acute discriminatory conduct in their treatment of the Salahiya family. Ir Amim alongside East Jerusalem residents has been lobbying the municipality for years to address the severe shortage of schools and classrooms in East Jerusalem. Empty spaces across the city, including in Sheikh Jarrah, have been proposed to the authorities that can serve such purposes. Yet, the Jerusalem Municipality saw it fit to rather dispossess and displace a Palestinian family to rectify their systematic neglect of the Palestinian education system in East Jerusalem.