False Sheikh Jarrah Controversy: Media, Diplomats Slam Israel for Implementing Court Ruling in Order to Build Special Needs School
Eight months after the US-designated Hamas terror group used a legal battle over possible evictions in eastern Jerusalem as a pretext to start an 11-day conflict with the Jewish state, Israeli police on Monday demolished several illegal Palestinian structures in the Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood.
Israeli courts had previously ruled that the Salihiya family built its plant business, as well as two storage units, on publicly owned land that Jerusalem has zoned for a special needs school to serve the Arab community.
Several attempts over the years to reach a peaceful resolution proved unsuccessful, prompting local authorities this week to move forward with the court-sanctioned evacuation of the property. However, as personnel prepared to carry out the lawful order, Mohammed Salhiya fortified himself atop the roof of his adjacent home — along with his children, a gas cylinder, and a canister of gasoline — and threatened to torch the area.
The situation ended following the intervention of police negotiators, after it became clear that the intent was to demolish the plant shop and not Salhiya’s house, which was also built without a construction permit. Meanwhile, European diplomats and major news organizations added fuel to the fire by flat out echoing the narrative that presents Israel’s efforts to uphold law and order — and, in this case, serve the Arab community — as running counter to “international law.”
According to the Jerusalem municipality, which has provided public services to residents in the eastern part of Israel’s capital since the reunification of the holy city in 1967, the local government has long wanted to build an educational complex on the above-mentioned land in Sheikh Jarrah, which is officially designated a “statutory area for public needs.”
In other words, Monday’s events are not connected to the ongoing attempt by Jewish Israelis to reclaim ownership of properties that were confiscated from them or their families between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem.
In a press release, the Jerusalem municipality made clear that the plan to build the special needs school was approved and budgeted “years ago.” As part of the project, 18 classrooms will be built in addition to six kindergartens, sports fields, and other facilities. The school would serve hundreds of Arab children with special needs from all over the city, with Sheikh Jarrah having been chosen due to its central location.
Yet illegal squatting on the plot has kept the municipality from realizing Mayor Moshe Lion’s stated goal of improving the quality of life in Arab-majority eastern Jerusalem, specifically by investing in the educational system.
Despite not owning the property they claim, which led the Jerusalem District Court in 2017 to issue an evacuation order, members of the Salhiya family have refused to vacate illegal structures to allow the school to be constructed.
The municipality tried to prevent this situation and time and again agreed to extensions, met with the family and tried to reach a peaceful resolution. Like in any city, building and planning laws have to be enforced as any jurisdiction would in the same circumstances
— פלר חסן נחום Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (@FleurHassanN) January 17, 2022
Nevertheless, Reuters, a leading wire service whose reports reach over a billion people worldwide every day, framed Monday’s events as being part of an alleged Israeli campaign to force Palestinians out of the neighborhood. An article titled, “Palestinian threatens to burn Sheikh Jarrah home rather than be evicted,” omits the fact that no family has been removed from residences in Sheikh Jarrah since 2017.
Furthermore, the article fails to make clear that only Mohammed Salhiya’s business, built illegally on land not belonging to him, was slated for demolition. Instead, the authors write that he “threatened on Monday to blow up gas canisters at his home rather than let his family be forced out.” [emphasis added]
A piece by Agence France-Presse (AFP), titled “Israel police in standoff with Palestinians over Jerusalem eviction,” similarly asserted that Mohammed Salhiya’s family “faced eviction,” without providing any information pertaining to the legal status of the property. It added that “hundreds of Palestinians” in the neighborhood are in the same boat.
For its part, the Associated Press, in the headline of its article, described Mohammed Salhiya’s threatening behavior as a “protest,” continuing the outlet’s practice of downplaying Palestinian violence.
Meanwhile, the development was blasted by several European ambassadors, some of whom showed up in Sheikh Jarrah to observe the demolition. In a tweet, the European Union delegation to the Palestinian Authority contended that it is, “Imperative to deescalate the situation and seek a peaceful resolution” — effectively ignoring years of mediation efforts. The delegation from Brussels also claimed that the eviction was “illegal under international law,” and undermined peace negotiations while “fuel[ing] tensions on the ground.”
The United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, and The Netherlands issued separate condemnations declaring that Israel’s attempt to improve services for the Arab population is “illegal.” For her part, Canada’s representative in the West Bank and Gaza, Robin Wettlaufer, on Twitter made the false claim that “another Palestinian family los[t] their home.”
Given that statements by diplomats on this issue are regularly cited by media and help shape the faulty narrative, we are in the process of directly reaching out to foreign missions in order to ask their representatives one simple question: Do you recognize the independence, competence, and authority of the Israeli court system?
The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.