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Jerusalem police expel Palestinian family overnight, stopping standoff; 18 arrested

Israeli police threw out a Palestinian family and demolished their home in the blaze in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah before dawn on Wednesday, where they arrested 18 Palestinians and Israeli activists on the spot.

Jerusalem City Hall said it plans to build a special school for the neighborhood's Palestinian residents on the site, as well as six kindergartens and other public facilities.

"We are doing this for any structure that has been built illegally. It is happening in West Jerusalem, and it is happening in East Jerusalem," said Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor Fleur Hasson-Nahoum.

According to Hasson-Nahoum, the home - owned by the Salihya family - was built illegally in the 1990s. The Salihiya disputes this, saying they have lived there since the 1950s on land purchased from private Arab landlords.

It was the first deportation in Sheikh Jarrah since 2017. Deferral fighting in the May quarter was a major factor in tensions that triggered a short-lived war between Israel and Hamas terrorists, which threatened violence if Palestinians were to be removed from their homes.

The deportation plan sparked bitter condemnation from Palestinians, European diplomats and left-wing Israeli politicians. The Palestinians see the postponement as part of a larger Israeli attempt to erase their presence in East Jerusalem.

"As thieves at night arrived, officers arrived to throw the Salihiya family out into the freezing street. That is the life of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem," Meretz MP Mossi Raz said immediately after the eviction Wednesday morning.

In 2017, Jerusalem Municipality announced it would expropriate the property to build a school, sparking a legal battle with the Salihiya family. Last year, a court in Jerusalem ruled in favor of the city, though the family continues to contest the eviction.

When police first arrived on Monday, the Salihiya family barricaded themselves inside their home. Police buried a nursery belonging to the family on the site while negotiating with residents about their homes.

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Municipal bulldozers demolish a structure on a plot of land previously occupied by the Salihiya family in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 (with courtesy)

Family Patriarch Mahmoud Salihiya, standing next to a can of fuel on the roof, threatened to burn himself alive and took his house with him instead of being thrown out.

"We are not going. We will either live or die. I will burn myself with fuel," Salihiya said in a video circulating on social media. Police withdrew later that day, but the two parties did not reach a final appointment.

The standoff ended when dozens of police officers raided the Salihiya family home around 3 a.m. Wednesday night.

The journalists and European diplomats gathered around the home when the bulldozers first arrived on Monday were absent. Temperatures dropped to below zero degrees Celsius, and freezing rain fell over the neighborhood.

Eighteen Palestinians and Israelis were arrested on the spot. Left-wing activists identified the detainees as at least five Israelis and as most of the Salihiya family.

"Some were arrested for questioning on suspicion of violating a court order, 'violent grounding' and violation of public order," police said in a joint statement with Jerusalem City Hall.

In videos from the site, a bulldozer breaking down the house was filmed. "The postponement of the structure and the ground was completed," police announced later in the morning.

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Israeli forces stand at the ruins of a Palestinian house demolished in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem on January 19, 2022 (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

Sheikh Jarrah, parts of which were historically known in Hebrew as Shimon Hatzadik or Nahalat Shimon, has become one of Jerusalem's most tense neighborhoods. Palestinians live with a small cluster of right-wing Jewish nationalists who moved in after complex deportation cases.

According to the left-wing non-profit organization Ir Amim, about 300 Palestinians are currently threatened with deportation in Sheikh Jarrah, mostly in private cases brought by right-wing Jewish groups.

In the case of the Salihiya family, however, the land was confiscated by Jerusalem municipality instead of being claimed by individual Jewish residents. The city says their home was built illegally on land laid out for public use.

"This is not the same as the Sheikh Jarrah cases as a few months ago, although everyone is mixing them up into one thing," said Hassan-Nahoum, the deputy mayor.

Palestinians claim they rarely get permits to build legally in East Jerusalem. City officials, flanked by police, often oversee the demolition of Palestinian houses built without approval.

In recent months, municipal authorities have begun registering land in East Jerusalem in an attempt to allow legal construction there. But many Palestinians remain deeply suspicious of the city's intentions.

"The settlers want to take it all - from Sheikh Jarrah to Silwan to Wadi Joz," said Sheikh Jarrah resident Salah Diab, referring to the municipality.

Jerusalem has about 350,000 Palestinian inhabitants, who make up about 38 percent of the city's population. But the municipality provides their neighborhoods with far fewer public services: schools are overcrowded, garbage is piling up, and streets are in noticeable disrepair.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem can vote in city elections, but most choose to boycott, leaving them without representatives in City Hall. The city's planning committee is chaired by the ultra-Orthodox representative Eliezer Rauchberg.

Left-wing activists claim the city could have chosen to build a Palestinian school without throwing out the Salihiya family. A large public plot of about four dunams had until recently been present for public use just around the corner.

But it was assigned to an ultra-Orthodox religious school in 2007, even though the neighborhood is mostly Palestinian, according to Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim.

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