Palestinians fight ongoing ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah

Four men stand on top of a roof

Palestinians atop the roof of the Salhiya family house in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, trying to stop its demolition on 17 January.

Heidi Levine SIPA

A Palestinian man threatened to set himself and his house ablaze on Monday if Israeli occupation forces moved to expel him and his family.

It was the latest dramatic escalation amid Israel’s ongoing effort to ethnically cleanse the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Mahmoud Salhiya stood on the roof of his home while holding a tank of gasoline, refusing to surrender.

The Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality seeks to expel the family of seven supposedly in order to build a school in its place.

The municipality plans to take over the entire neighborhood, Salhiya told reporters, warning that his house would be the first of many.

During a day-long standoff with Israeli police, Salhiya remained on his rooftop, with support from other Palestinians in the community.

Though Israeli forces failed to destroy his home that day, the threat remains.

An attorney for the municipality reportedly offered to delay the demolition of Salhiya’s home and proceed with the demolition of the family’s business, a plant nursery, and a parking lot instead.

The municipality refused to guarantee that it would not demolish his home and forcibly remove his family in the future.

The Salhiya family originates from Ein Karem, a village west of Jerusalem. They were ethnically cleansed from their homes during the Nakba, the 1948 expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians in order to establish Israel.

Systemic ethnic cleansing

The Salhiya family is among dozens in Sheikh Jarrah that Israeli settlement organizations are trying to expel to Judaize Jerusalem and expand settlements, a war crime under international law.

It was Israel’s attempts to force other families out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah last spring that escalated into a full-scale confrontation with Palestinians, including Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza in May.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the deputy mayor of the Israeli-occupation municipality and a settler who arrived in the country from Britain in 2001, tried to extricate the Salhiya family’s case from this context.

“The eviction was not carried out in order to take land and give it to Jewish residents,” Hassan-Nahoum tweeted.

She claimed this was merely a “municipal dispute between the city and a family.”

Hassan-Nahoum says the planned school would be for Palestinian residents. But once the land is in the municipality’s hands, it can do whatever it pleases with it.

Even if it were true that Israel intended to build a school, the legal mechanism the occupation municipality is using to take over the land is Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law, which allows Israel to seize land and property owned by Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes during and after the Nakba.

Under a 1970 amendment to its law, Israel allowed Jews to reclaim Jerusalem properties they left in 1948, but did not allow the same right to the vastly greater number of Palestinians forced from their homes – a blatantly racist measure.

Under international law, Israel has no sovereignty or right to apply its laws in East Jerusalem, because it is occupied territory.

The United Nations Security Council has declared that all of Israel’s administrative and legislative measures aimed at changing the character and status of East Jerusalem are null and void.

If the Salhiya household is indeed expelled, seven people would become homeless, including five children.

“Five children face being left out on the street with their family in near-zero temperatures,” the Norwegian Refugee Council stated.

The humanitarian body called on Israeli authorities to “immediately halt the forceful expulsion” of the Salhiya family.

“We are not leaving,” Salhiya told reporters. “They won’t take the home unless it’s on fire.”

Israeli occupation forces attacked Palestinians in the area who came to show solidarity with the family

Hollow gestures

Meanwhile, European, British and Canadian diplomats staged photo-ops near the standoff and posted toothless protests of the Israeli action on Twitter.

Canada’s representative to the Palestinian Authority Robin Wettlaufer posed for a selfie as Israeli authorities demolished the Salhiya’s plant nursery in the backdrop.

“I bought many a plant at that shop,” Wettlaufer tweeted.

“Sad to see it demolished and another Palestinian family lose their home.”

As recently as last month, Wettlaufer lied to Electronic Intifada director Ali Abunimah by saying that “we neither arm nor fund Israel.”

In fact, Canada provides significant military, economic and political support to Israel.

The European Union’s office in the occupied West Bank said it was “observing the ongoing eviction” of the Salhiya family, along with diplomats from many of its member states.

Similarly, the UK consulate in Jerusalem said it was there to “bear witness.”

But far from being the helpless bystanders they claim to be, all these officials represent governments that arm, fund or support Israel in other ways that make them directly complicit in the crimes they purport to oppose.

Demolitions on the rise

Israeli demolitions have been increasing steadily since 2017.

Israeli occupation forces demolished more than 900 Palestinian structures throughout the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem during 2021, forcibly displacing 1,200 Palestinians, according to UN monitoring group OCHA.

In the three weeks since the new year began, Israel demolished 35 Palestinian structures, leaving more than 50 Palestinians homeless.




What does it mean when EU and other representatives tell us they attend house demolitions in order to "bear witness"? It means that they sit back, eat a packed lunch in their cars and watch war crimes and crimes against humanity while never lifting a finger to stop the perpetrator. These people have so prostituted the term "bearing witness" that the rest of us simply must bear witness against them. Against their slimy, corrupt hypocrisy. Against their love of wealth and power. Against their deceit, their lies and their gleeful, active role in genocide. It's all too fitting that we're presented with "selfies" taken by these degenerates at scenes of grief and ruin. They bear witness in the same way as crows waiting to descend on a smoking battlefield.

Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.