Sheikh Jarrah, occupied East Jerusalem – Israeli forces have destroyed the home of a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem, days after the family tried to stave off the demolition by threatening to blow up the house.
Large numbers of Israeli police and special forces raided the Salhiyeh home and cordoned off the surrounding area at 3am (01:00 GMT) on Wednesday. The family told Al Jazeera that dozens of heavily armed forces broke into their home while they slept and assaulted family members, arresting six of them including the head of the household, Mahmoud Salhiyeh.
At least 18 other Palestinians who were present at the home in solidarity with the family were also arrested.
Local activist Mohammad Abu al-Hommos holds up family photos at the ruins of the Palestinian house demolished by Israeli forces in the flashpoint occupied east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
The demolition began at the dawn call to prayer at approximately 5am (03:00 GMT) during a rainstorm on one of the coldest nights of this year’s winter season. The family of 18 is now rendered homeless.
Israeli authorities have justified the demolition to build a special education school for the residents of the neighbourhood.
Family member Yasmeen Salhiyeh, 19, said Israeli forces cut off the electricity to their home and fired tear gas canisters in and around the house. She told Al Jazeera that some 50 officers “raided the house and began beating up the men of the family – they also assaulted my aunt”.
“They pulled my father out of bed, beat him along with my brothers and cousins,” before arresting them “without giving them the chance to put clothes on”, she said.
Yasmeen added that Israeli forces fired rubber-coated bullets at activists and journalists who were attempting to reach the scene of the demolition, leading to several injuries.
Videos shared online showed an ambulance being blocked from reaching the site.
Jawad Siam, head of the Wadi Helweh Information Center monitoring group, arrived at the scene at about 3:30am (1:30 GMT). He told Al Jazeera that there were “about 200 police, border police, Yammam and special forces.”
Hours after the demolition ended and Israeli forces largely pulled out, the family and lawyers continue to have no information about the whereabouts of those arrested, said Yasmeen.
The Salhiyeh home lies on the main street in the flashpoint neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, about one kilometre (half a mile) north of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. Many families in the neighbourhood face imminent expulsion by Israeli authorities.
Israeli forces initially attempted to demolish the house on Monday, but the family barricaded themselves on their rooftop and threatened to blow the house up rather than face displacement, leading to a tense, day-long standoff with the authorities.
“I will burn the house and everything in it,” Mahmoud Salhiyeh said as he stood on the roof of his home surrounded by gas canisters. “I will not leave here, only from here to the grave, because there is no life, no dignity.
“I’ve been in battle with them for 25 years, they sent me settlers who offered to buy the house and I did not agree.”
Israeli authorities had issued a land confiscation order under the pretext that the six-dunam property (1.5 acres) would be used to build a special needs school, according to the family.
Israeli police said in a statement on Twitter on Wednesday that “this land was expropriated by the local authority for the purpose of establishing a special education school for the residents of the neighborhood.”
A final Israeli court hearing for the family’s displacement was set for January 23. Forced displacement in occupied territory is a violation of international law and a war crime.
“There was hope that the family would have more time,” said Siam. “The lawyers had put in a request to extend the time for the demolition – they were expecting that it would be temporarily halted.”
The Salhiyeh family belongings lay on the ground following the demolition [Zena Tahhan/Al Jazeera]
The family was forcibly displaced from their home once before, in the village of Ein Karem in the western half of Jerusalem, during the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, when Zionist militias violently expelled some 750,000 Palestinians to create the state of Israel.
Mohammad Abu al-Hommos, a local activist, said Wednesday’s demolition was about “revenge”.
“The Israelis just wanted to prove that they could get to the family even if the family managed to block the demolition for 48 hours,” he told Al Jazeera at the scene.
“They wanted to demolish the spirit of Mahmoud’s family, to kill its history and its memories. Mahmoud’s parents were displaced once before from Ein Karem, and here they are in 2022, they’re being displaced again,” added Abu al-Hommos.
“This is about the Judaization of Jerusalem,” he continued, describing the demolished home appearing “as though it was hit by an earthquake”.
Local NGOs and rights groups have long pointed to a range of Israeli practices and policies in Jerusalem aimed at altering the demographic ratio in favour of Jews, a goal laid out as “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city” in the municipality’s 2000 masterplan.
Unlawful settlement expansion, Palestinian home demolitions, and restrictions on urban development are some of the main ways being used to realise this goal, according to rights groups.
Israel militarily occupied the eastern half of the city in 1967. Only 13 percent is zoned for Palestinian development and residential construction, most of which is already built up.
Some 57 percent of all land in occupied East Jerusalem has been expropriated by Israeli authorities, including from private Palestinian owners, for both the building of illegal settlements and zoning of land as “green areas and public infrastructure”. The remaining 30 percent comprises “unplanned areas” where construction is also banned.
At least 280 Palestinian households in Jerusalem consisting of 970 people, including 424 children, are at risk of forced displacement by Israeli authorities, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).
Grassroots al-Quds, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian NGO, said Israel’s actions come as part of “a large-scale plan to empty al-Sheikh Jarrah of its Palestinian residents,” including plans to build new illegal Jewish settlements.