Jerusalem: Arab squatters face off with police, threaten to blow themselves up

Israeli policemen nearly faced a deadly encounter in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem Monday, as illegal Arab squatters threatened to set off an explosion.

By Aryeh Savir, TPS

Illegal Arab squatters at Shimon Hatzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood in Jerusalem generated a crisis Monday when they threatened to detonate a gas balloon after being ordered by the police to vacate a plot of land they has illegally seized.

The police stated that they had been assisting the Jerusalem Municipality in the implementation of an eviction order for the land in the area of ​​Derech HaZeitim Street, issued in 2017.

The land in question was expropriated by the local authority for the purpose of establishing educational institutions for the benefit of the residents of the neighborhood.

With the arrival of municipal representatives accompanied by police forces, several squatters climbed onto one of the roofs built on the property with a gas balloon and flammable material and set fire to mattresses.

A team of police negotiators and a tactical unit were alerted to the scene.

About a year ago, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the family to vacate the land designated for public needs, in favor of establishing a special education school with 18 classrooms and 6 kindergartens, which are supposed to serve the residents of the neighborhood and their children.

Since the court ruling, the family has been given “countless opportunities” to hand over the land by consent, but they have refused to do so, even after repeated extensions, meetings and attempts at dialogue by the Jerusalem Municipality, the police underscored.

‘It is impossible to hold the stick at both ends’

“Therefore, the Jerusalem Municipality acted this morning as ordered by the court and implemented the orders issued by the court,” the Jerusalem Municipality stated.

Minister of Internal Security Omer Barlev said he was closely monitoring the events and “it is impossible to hold the stick at 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.”

Monday’s dramatic scene was the latest in a series of legal battles over the land and property in Shimon HaZadik between Jewish owners and the state and between Arab families living there illegally.

Israeli courts have recently issued a list of rulings ordering the eviction of the Arab squatters.

The land in question at the heart of the dispute was purchased by the Sephardic Community Committee in Jerusalem and the Knesset of Israel Committee in 1875, before the establishment of the state of Israel.

The Arab families settled in the neighborhood after the War of Independence in 1948, when Israel lost control over this part of Jerusalem, and their residence was approved by the Jordanian government, which controlled the area until 1967, at the initiative of the UNRWA.

In 1956, the Jordanian government and UNRWA settled 28 families and they were granted tenant status for a period of 33 years, while ownership of the place remained in the hands of the Jordanian custodian. The Israeli owners are now seeking to regain control of their properties.