(JNS) Israeli authorities on Monday morning attempted to evict the Salhiya family, Arab squatters living illegally since the 1950s in a home in the Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. The day-long standoff ended without an eviction, though authorities did destroy a plant nursery on the premises as well as two illegal storage structures.
Video and photos from the scene show the Salhiya family standing on the roof of their home with gas canisters. Mohammed Salhiya had threatened to set himself on fire if the eviction order was carried out. “We will not be evicted from the house,” he threatened. “Either we will die or we will live. I am going to burn myself!”
Salhiya’s family has been facing eviction since 2017, when the land where his home sits was allocated by the city for the construction of a school. The Jerusalem Municipality and the police said in a joint statement that the Salhiya family has ignored “countless opportunities” to vacate the land as ordered.
A delegation of European officials, led by European Union representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, showed up in an apparent attempt to prevent the eviction. The official Twitter account for the European Union Delegation to the Palestinians said, “Imperative to de-escalate the situation and seek a peaceful resolution. Evictions/demolitions are illegal under international law and significantly undermine the prospects for peace as well as fuel tensions on the ground.”
According to Avi Bell, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law, “the European Union’s accusation that Israel is committing war crimes in Sheikh Jarrah by moving forward with plans to build an Arabic-language special-needs school for Israeli and Palestinian Arab residents of the neighborhood shows that European officials harbor equal contempt for common sense, international law and the Jewish state.”
He further told JNS, “There is no international law that forbids Israel taking control of public lands to build a special-needs school” or that “gives Palestinian trespassers the right to block construction of a special-needs school.”
He accused the E.U. delegation of “trying to obscure the bias displayed by its knee-jerk assault on Israel by making laughably inaccurate claims about international law.”
The current area of Sheikh Jarrah encompasses Shimon HaTzadik and Nahalat Shimon, which were separate neighborhoods in the late Ottoman period and in Mandatory Jerusalem. Nachalat Shimon is a Jewish neighborhood built more than 130 years ago on empty land and still completely owned by Jews.
The British Consulate in Jerusalem also tweeted its concern and took the side of the Arab squatters while stating false interpretations of international law. “Evictions in Occupied Territory are against international humanitarian law in all but the most exceptional circumstances. The UK urges the Government of Israel to cease such practices which only serve to increase tensions on the ground.”
The bottom line is: It’s Jewish-owned property
Even the Minister of Internal Security, Omer Bar-Lev, no friend of the Israeli right, acknowledged on Monday that the law is on Israel’s side.
“The court ruled that this was an illegal invasion [by Arab squatters]. The area is intended for the establishment of classrooms and kindergartens for special education that are for the benefit of the neighborhood’s Arab children. It is impossible to hold on to a stick from both ends—both to demand that the municipality act for the welfare of the Arab residents and also to oppose the construction of educational institutions for their welfare.”
Starting in 1982, a number of Jewish owners brought their case to the courts to claim back land and homes Jordan had illegally confiscated in 1948. Palestinians have rejected these claims, saying their homes were legally purchased from Jordan.
Jordan, however, never legally owned the area of Sheikh Jarrah, having confiscated it in its war with Israel in 1948 and ethnically cleansed its Jewish residents from the very homes the Arab illegal squatters now claim as their own.
A number of court cases are currently pending as Arab squatters in Sheikh Jarrah battle Jewish owners over rights to the homes they occupy. One of them involves the Salem family, who also face eviction after squatting in a Jewish-owned home.
Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, specializing in constitutional and international law, told JNS that the only reason the Salem family is there is because Jordan seized the property and let them live there. In his view, this does not mean they have a title to it.
“The bottom line is: It’s a Jewish-owned property,” he said.
According to Chaim Rubinstein, an activist involved in assisting Jewish property owners to reclaim their land, the squatters “were aware they were on someone else’s property from the beginning. They have been living illegally in someone else’s property and not paying rent to the owners.”