“There are two issues which cut to the core of the identity of both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people: displacement and Jerusalem,” said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney specializing in Jerusalem politics. “It’s all there in this limited space of Sheikh Jarrah, and once you put them together, it’s nuclear fusion.”
More than 250 Palestinians have been injured over the weekend in clashes with Israeli police in Sheikh Jarrah and on the Temple Mount, which houses the al-Aqsa Mosque and has long served as a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abdel Fattah Sqaffe, a 71-year-old resident of Sheikh Jarrah whose 14-member household is among the six facing eviction, said the uptick in violence feels similar to other periods preceding major fighting.
“I think if this continues, if they continue to try to occupy us, it can spark war in all of Israel, both sides of the Green Line, and all of the region,” he said.
On Saturday, Israeli police blocked several buses of Palestinians headed to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan. Hundreds of Palestinians complied with the police orders and walked the rest of the way to Jerusalem, chanting down the highway: “In spirit, in blood, we will take back al-Aqsa!”
That night, some 90,000 Palestinians attended prayers at the Temple Mount. Some then clashed with Israeli police in both Sheikh Jarrah and around the al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Gaza-based Islamic militant group Hamas retaliated Sunday by launching several rockets into Israel. The Israeli military struck a Hamas military post in southern Gaza and closed Gaza’s fishing zone in response to “the violence committed against the country’s citizens,” the army said in a statement.
“We salute the people of al-Aqsa, who oppose the arrogance of the Zionists and we call on our people in Palestine to support their brothers by all means,” tweeted Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas leader.
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert told Kan news on Saturday that “a kind of intifada is brewing, which is possible to prevent,” using the word for a Palestinian mass uprising.
Israel’s response to the Palestinian protests, including the firing of rubber bullets within the al-Aqsa Mosque, has drawn condemnations from around the world.
“Violence breeds violence,” Pope Francis told pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. “Stop clashes.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) expressed “solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.”
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday that any Israeli evictions in East Jerusalem could be considered “war crimes.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country could build where it wanted in its capital.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem,” he said in a televised statement. “That is what we have done, and that is what we will continue to do.”
The flare-up coincides with preparations for Jerusalem Day on Monday, the national holiday celebrating Israel’s capture of eastern Jerusalem in 1967, during which far-right Israelis march through Arab parts of the city and have in past years shouted slogans such as “death to Arabs.”
At the request of Israeli security chiefs citing security concerns, the Supreme Court announced that it would delay its decision on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, originally scheduled for Monday.
The Israeli settlers moving to evict the Palestinians and bulldoze the neighborhood to make room for 200 housing units are relying on a 1970 Israeli law that gives Jewish Israelis the right to reclaim East Jerusalem properties owned by Jews before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinians who lost their land do not have the same right.
History scholars say a small Jewish community existed for thousands of years in Sheikh Jarrah around the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, an ancient Jewish high priest, but fled the area when the city was divided in 1948 between Israel and Jordan. In 1956, Jordan and the United Nations built 28 small homes at Sheikh Jarrah, east of the Green Line, to house Palestinian refugee families. They were joined over time by others. The Palestinians paid rent to a “general custodian,” first under Jordan, then, after Israel conquered the land in 1967, under Israel.
Chaim Silberstein, the president of the pro-settler advocacy group Keep Jerusalem, was involved in raising international funds for the purchase of the properties in 1998 by the pro-settler Nahalat Shimon organization. He said the Palestinian residents of the neighborhood were “squatters” who have refused offers of compensation for their displacement.
“The Arabs see this as a challenge to their desire to get a Palestinian state, a capital in East Jerusalem,” Silberstein said. “But it’s a legal issue, which they’ve lost.”
There have been no evictions in the neighborhood since 2009, when the U.S. government and international community pressured the Israeli government to halt such moves. But the court cases started again in recent years in response to gestures to the Israeli settler movement by the Trump administration, said Sami Abu Dayya, a Palestinian resident of Sheikh Jarrah.
“The law is made for the Jewish population, not made for us,” said Abu Dayya, whose parents settled in the neighborhood after the war in 1948.
His land, near his Ambassador Hotel, is slated for eviction at the end of the month. He says he has little legal recourse.
“We will see families made into refugees again,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article reported incorrectly that Sami Abu Dayya’s hotel was one of the properties subject to eviction. It’s his land near his hotel that’s subject to eviction. The article has been corrected.