The fuse of violence is reigniting in Jerusalem and, it seems, it may take some time to die down. At its heart is a small Palestinian neighborhood called Sheikh Jarrah – almost forgotten in recent days, amid reports of airstrikes and bombings.
The story is not new. In fact, this part of East Jerusalem has opposed Palestinians and Israelis for years. In 2014, when I was Folha’s correspondent in the Middle East, I wrote a report on the tensions between the inhabitants of this neighborhood.
Sheikh Jarrah’s houses were built in 1956 by the Jordanian government – which at the time controlled the eastern part of Jerusalem – to house Palestinian refugee families. They had been forced to leave their homes after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. After Israel’s subsequent takeover of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israeli settlers began to settle in the neighborhood.
In part, the settlers were based on the history of the Jewish community that lived there in antiquity, near the tomb of Simeon, a high priest from around 300 BC. They were also based on the alleged purchase of land in the 19th century, disputed by the Palestinians. Israeli law allows Israelis to repossess property they left in 1948. However, Palestinians cannot do the same.
After a series of legal disputes, Israel has started to deport the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah, in what Palestinians call ethnic cleansing. The last time was in 2009, with the expulsion of the Hanoun and Ghawi families. But the tension followed. In 2014, when I wrote my report, the Kurdish family had to share their home with Jewish settlers who had settled there, under the eyes of the authorities.
The recent resumption of evictions has once again inflamed the spirits. Actions are underway to evict several families. There were protests by Palestinians against these measures, followed by clashes with Israeli officials. Sheikh Jarrah has thus become a symbol of a larger problem – in particular, the use of laws that apply only to part of the population and the frequent expulsion of Palestinians from their homes.
It is in this context that the latest events took place. Among them, violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred in Islam. Israeli security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters inside the mosque, which was filled with worshipers this festive period of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 305 Palestinians were injured there on Monday.
To make matters worse, the radical Hamas faction launched rockets at Jerusalem. The group, considered terrorist by Israel and the United States, threatened Israel because of what was happening in Sheikh Jarrah and the al-Aqsa Mosque. In retaliation, the Israeli army shelled the Gaza Strip. According to Hamas, nine people died in the airstrikes, including three children.