Land rights case sparks new east Jerusalem clashes

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Palestinians wait at an Israeli checkpoint near the occupied-West Bank town of Bethlehem, to enter Jerusalem to attend the last Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on May 7, 2021. — AFP pic
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Palestinians wait at an Israeli checkpoint near the occupied-West Bank town of Bethlehem, to enter Jerusalem to attend the last Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on May 7, 2021. — AFP pic

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JERUSALEM, May 7 — Fifteen Palestinians were arrested in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem overnight in clashes with police over an eviction threat against four Palestinian families.

The second straight night of rioting in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood was fuelled by a years-long land dispute between Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlers in the strategic district near Jerusalem’s Old City.

The violence comes as Muslims prepare to mark the last Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan, with tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers set to gather at the sacred Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Police said protesters torched a vehicle and threw stones outside a house occupied by Jewish settlers.

Palestinians also traded insults with far-right Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, who visited Sheikh Jarrah to voice support for the Jewish settlers.

Repeating in Hebrew the refrain “this house is ours”, Ben-Gvir announced that he was setting up a makeshift parliamentary office in a tent outside a building occupied by settlers.

Tensions have been fuelled by a long-running legal case over the homes of four Palestinian families on land claimed by Jews, which is due to go before the Supreme Court on Monday.

The latest clashes followed violence on Wednesday night, when 22 Palestinians were wounded, according to the Red Crescent. Police said they had made 11 arrests.

“This land is Palestinian land... and we, the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, we cannot accept that this land is theirs. This land is ours,” said 77-year-old Nabeel al-Kurd, one of those facing eviction.

‘Very worrying’

The United Nations has voiced concern over the violence and anti-riot police’s use of water cannons spraying foul-smelling liquid.

UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said developments “related to the eviction of Palestine refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighbourhoods in occupied east Jerusalem” were “very worrying”.

“I urge Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law,” the envoy said in a statement.

Earlier this year, a Jerusalem district court ruled the homes legally belonged to the Jewish families, citing purchases made when the whole of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel, was under British rule.

The Jewish plaintiffs claimed their families lost the land during the war that accompanied Israel’s creation in 1948, a conflict that also saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from their homes.

Israeli law allows Jews who can prove pre-1948 title to recover their properties.

It does not afford the same right to Palestinians.

The Sheikh Jarrah families have provided evidence that their homes were acquired from Jordanian authorities, who controlled east Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.

Amman has intervened in the case, providing documents to support the Palestinian claims.

Israel seized east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.

The district court ruling infuriated Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, who viewed it as a further step in what they see as a Jewish settler effort to drive Arabs out of east Jerusalem.

Israel’s Supreme Court had called on the sides to seek a compromise, but when that failed it announced it would hold a new hearing on Monday, during which it is expected to rule on whether the Palestinians can appeal the district court decision.

An appeal process could take years. — AFP

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