Israeli police demolished the home of the Salhiya family in the middle of the night on Wednesday, in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Around 3:30 am, Israeli police raided the home and forcibly removed the family and activists.
The police used stun grenades and arrested more than a dozen people before razing the house to the ground.
“The family have no place to go,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said of the seven residents, including five children.
“Children’s physical and psychological well-being is now at risk, having witnessed their home turn into rubble in the dark.”
“These cruel acts turn the Salhiyas into two-time refugees,” Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
“This is what apartheid and persecution looks like. Perpetrators of these crimes against humanity should be prosecuted and sanctioned.”
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. They had lived in the home Israel just destroyed for decades.
Israeli forces arrived at the Salhiya home on Monday in an earlier attempt to demolish it, but Mahmoud Salhiya and activists stayed on the roof while Salhiya threatened to set himself and the house ablaze if the demolition went forward.
On that day, the Israeli army destroyed the family’s business, a plant nursery.
European, British and Canadian diplomats staged photo-ops near the Salhiya home on Monday to “bear witness” to what they acknowledged was a violation of international law by Israel.
However, their theatrics and toothless protests did nothing to deter Israel from coming back days later to complete the destruction.
Ir Amim, an Israeli group that monitors settlement activity in Jerusalem, said Israeli authorities “were presented with multiple options” that would allow the Salhiya family “to remain safely in their homes.”
But “they chose instead to cynically dispossess a Palestinian family.”The family was in the process of appealing the case to Israel’s high court, their attorney told Tel Aviv daily Haaretz.
Israel seized and destroyed the Salhiya home on the pretext that it is needed to build a school for Palestinians.
The Israeli-occupation municipality claims the school will serve “hundreds of children with special needs from all over East Jerusalem.”
The Israeli police even posted a video of the demolition, saying the planned school would “benefit” the community.But Ir Amim said there was a nearby plot of land that could have been used to build a school.
However, Israel has allocated that land for a yeshiva – a Jewish religious school – that will help consolidate the presence of Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem in violation of international law.
“Clearly the thought of building schools for Palestinians in place of a new yeshiva in Sheikh Jarrah is inconceivable in the eyes of the Israeli authorities,” Ir Amim added.
“They’d rather force a Palestinian family out of their homes to meet such needs.”
The cynicism of the Israeli move is made even more transparent by how Israel, the occupying power in East Jerusalem, has for decades neglected education for Palestinians in the city, leading to a severe shortage of classrooms.
Meanwhile, Israel has massively expanded its Jewish colonial settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem.
All of a sudden, Israel is interested in building schools for Palestinians, but apparently the only place it could find to do so is over the ruins of a Palestinian home.
Israeli authorities carried out the demolition using Hyundai equipment, effectively contributing to a war crime, as it was called by Human Rights Watch.
Palestinians have long called on the South Korean conglomerate to halt the use of its equipment by Israel in the commission of such crimes.
Under the cover of night
Israel chose to carry out the demolition in the middle of the night, when there would be fewer cameras, reporters and activists present.
It was clearly an attempt to avoid a PR disaster.
After all, it was Israel’s efforts 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.
Building a school is not a valid pretext for Israel violating international law and making a Palestinian family homeless. But it is also impossible to take the Israeli-controlled municipality at its word.
Once the land is in the hands of Israel, there is no telling what will be done with it.
For decades, Israel has made promises of building housing and other infrastructure for Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, only to break them.
Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.