Jerusalem has seen some of its worst violence in years. It began with protests in the usually quiet neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. The demonstrations spread to other parts of the city – including to the Al Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Heavy-handed policing fueled anger as tensions escalated. Many see this as the spark that triggered one of the deadliest episodes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent history.
But tensions are still simmering over the planned eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah.
So what’s going on there and why is it important?
Sheikh Jarrah is a Palestinian neighborhood in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.
Most of the people who live here are Palestinians – but in the past few years, Jewish settlers have moved into some properties. Protests flared recently over plans to evict Palestinian families to make way for more settlers. It’s all part of a long-running dispute over the ownership of the land and who has the right to live there.
To understand why, we have to go back to the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, after Israel declared its independence.
The conflict displaced some 750,000 Palestinians. Some of them were later resettled in Sheikh Jarrah as part of a Jordanian project funded by the United Nations. Some of the land had previously been owned by two Jewish associations.
In 1967, Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem – including Sheikh Jarrah. Israel views Jerusalem as its ‘unified, eternal’ capital and denies that East Jerusalem is occupied. But with it under Israeli control, Jewish settlers started launching legal challenges to claim ownership of the land.
This is at the heart of the conflict in Sheikh Jarrah. Seven families are facing eviction to make way for Jewish settlers – with several more in the middle of court proceedings.
The families say the laws are discriminatory – and that it’s not a real-estate dispute, but a case of forced expulsion.
This isn’t just happening in Sheikh Jarrah. There are dozens more cases in another East Jerusalem neighborhood, Silwan.
According to international law, Israel can’t confiscate property in an occupied territory. The UN has called for a halt to the evictions, saying they may amount to a war crime.
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