Silwan, Occupied East Jerusalem – Violent confrontations broke out following Friday midday prayers between Israeli police and residents, with a number of Palestinians wounded and arrested.
Israeli forces fired stun grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear gas canisters at Palestinian demonstrators angered by ongoing home and business demolitions in the area.
Tensions continue after Nidal Rajabe, his brother Fadi, and several other Palestinians from Al Bustan were released to house arrest for five days on Friday, after paying 500 shekels ($150) bail each.
The men were charged with assault when they resisted arrest after Rajabe’s butchery and another Palestinian home were destroyed by Israeli authorities using CAT excavators on Tuesday.
Images of a distraught Rijabe trying to defend his butchery, and livelihood, from being demolished and his subsequent arrest – and those of the other young men who were all beaten – made the rounds on social media almost instantaneously, fuelling a growing vortex of collective anger in occupied East Jerusalem.
Since 2005, Israel has sent demolition notices to residents of about 100 homes in Silwan warning their abodes – housing more than 1,500 people – are to be destroyed on the grounds they were built without a permit.
However, it is almost impossible for Palestinians to get building permits in East Jerusalem, as only about 13 percent of the illegally occupied part of the city has been allocated for Palestinians. Simultaneously, Israeli settlements are actively encouraged with financial incentives and the protection of Israeli law.
Defying the international community
The demolitions are to make way for an Israeli settler organisation that seeks to turn the land into a national park, linked to the archaeological City of David area.
According to a statement released by Fakhri Abu Diab, co-director of the Jahalin Solidarity organisation and spokesman for Silwan residents, members of the US Congress are currently discussing Israel’s ongoing displacement of Palestinians and the destruction of their homes in East Jerusalem in contravention of international law.
“People know members of Congress are speaking out about these issues, yet current events witnessed by Palestinians prove that Israel is prepared to defy the international community, including members of the US Congress,” said Abu Diab.
Recently, a number of homes and buildings in Silwan were ordered to self-demolish or face a fine of $6,000 if the municipality carried out the demolitions. Nidal Rijabe was one of them.
On Tuesday, dozens of Israel’s paramilitary border police came to Al Bustan to protect the demolition operation against Rajabe’s butchery and the other home.
The previous evening, police visited Rajabe at his business and asked why he had not self-demolished his abattoir.
He explained the self-demolition notice had not been received and in any case he was not prepared to destroy his livelihood.
As the excavators moved in the entire area became a closed zone, with access impossible even for members of the press – some of whom were also beaten, according to Abu Diab.
“Tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets were used on site and in all Bustan alleys and in nearby Batan Al Hawa,” he said.
Twenty-five people required treatment at the hospital’s emergency after police with batons charged a crowd that gathered in support of the Rajabes.
In the subsequent altercations with police, Rajabe and several of his brothers were arrested and assaulted. He and one of his brothers, who was briefly hospitalised, were imprisoned for three days.
Because of insufficient evidence, police decided not to pursue the assault charges.
Later that evening, skunk water was sprayed in the streets and live fire used by members of Israel’s Musta’ribeen units – undercover agents disguised as Arabs.
“People of Bustan were predictably upset by the demolition and by the police brutality, and feared that other buildings – their homes – might be targeted in the same operation, especially since 16 other buildings are also vulnerable to immediate demolition,” said Abu Diab.
“The community of Silwan, comprising 60,000 people, is deeply worried that this violence is the precursor to mass displacements as threatened by the Israeli authorities, which applies to Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and Walajeh.”
Being made homeless
According to Grassroots Jerusalem, a Palestinian NGO, Israel’s demolitions and court-ordered forced evictions are tactics used to expel Palestinian residents in favour of higher Jewish demography.
In a statement earlier this month, Palestinian rights organisation Al-Haq said Palestinians in East Jerusalem make up the majority of the population, but “Israeli zoning laws have allocated 35 percent of the land area for the construction of illegal settlements by Israeli settlers”.
Another 52 percent of the land area has been “allocated as ‘green areas’ and ‘unplanned areas’ in which construction is prohibited”, it said.
Abu Diab told Al Jazeera he had previously held numerous meetings with foreign diplomats during which he appealed for help to prevent the families from being made homeless.
“The French and American diplomats told me they would put pressure on the Israeli government not to proceed with the demolitions, which the French said broke international law,” said Abu Diab.
In regards to the current discussions in the US Congress, Abu Diab said Silwan residents asserted, yet again, that demolitions and forcible displacement, including Israeli court-ordered expulsions, were against international law, were codified as war crimes, and the occupying power, Israel, had a duty to protect those under its occupation.
Abu Diab said Silwan residents appealed to the international community, including lawmakers, to demand that Israel cease its illegal policies.
“The fact that there are almost daily demolitions may have tended to cover these war crimes with a veneer of normalisation,” he said.
“The people of Silwan and others in East Jerusalem or Area C who are threatened with such forcible displacement [often to facilitate settlement expansion] demand protection and the full force of international law, since to them it is obvious that the Israeli authorities are testing the waters and if the response is minimal, their homes, livelihoods and futures are in danger.”
Caroline Ort, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Palestine director, said on Wednesday the Israeli authorities must immediately stop forcibly displacing people and demolishing their homes and property.