Israel police evict Jerusalem residents from disputed houses

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police on Wednesday evicted Palestinian residents from a disputed property in a flashpoint Jerusalem neighborhood and demolished the building, days after a tense standoff.

Earlier in the week the residents of the buildings in Sheikh Jarrah held a tense standoff with police officers who had come to evict them from the property, but were stopped after people threatened to set gas tanks on fire. Several other properties in the neighborhood are also disputed.

Police said officers arrested 18 people Wednesday suspected of “violating a court order, violent fortification and disturbing public order” during the early morning eviction.

The Salhiya family say they purchased the property before 1967, while the state has argued against the family’s claims in court. The municipality says the land was always zoned for public use, but is also privately owned by other Arab parties whom it declined to name.

Jerusalem City Hall says it will compensate the rightful owners and will build a special needs school on the plot to serve the Palestinian community in the neighborhood. It says the Salhiya family is squatting on the land and that the buildings were constructed illegally in the 1990s.

A Jerusalem court ruled last year in favor of the city and authorized the eviction. The family has appealed and is awaiting a ruling, but the judge did not freeze the eviction order.

The municipality and police said in a joint statement Wednesday that the family’s “illegal takeover of public space prevented hundreds of children with special needs from East Jerusalem from receiving a educational service that the municipality seeks to provide.”

Dozens of Palestinian families in east Jerusalem are at risk of eviction by Jewish settler organizations, and thousands face the threat of demolition because of discriminatory policies that make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to build new homes or expand existing ones.

Other threatened evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods, which are tied up in decades-old legal battles between Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers, set off protests and clashes last year that eventually helped ignite the 11-day Gaza war.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized by most of the international community. Israel considers the entire city to be its capital, and the municipality says it is working to improve services for all residents.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, and the city’s fate is one of the most divisive issues in the century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.