On January 17, Israeli occupation forces were caught in a standoff with the Salhiya family in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The representative of the household, Mahmoud Salhiya, received numerous “eviction” orders regarding his house and family business, a plant nursery. His property, which he has owned since the 1950s, was razed yesterday to make way for a school for illegal Israeli settlers.
Despite his efforts to contest this decision with the courts, whose jurisdiction, and therefore legality, is strongly refuted, Israeli armed forces, accompanied by a bulldozer and several other large vehicles, approached his home and closed off all surrounding roads on Monday morning. In a last line of defence against homelessness in the middle of winter, he stood on the roof of his house with a large gas canister threatening to self-immolate and burn down his home if they approached.
The bulldozer proceeded to destroy the Salhiya plant nursery beside their home. This was witnessed by Palestinian demonstrators, local and international journalists, representaives from the UN and EU, and livestream broadcast viewers watching on social media platforms. The occupation forces denied protestors access into the area, preventing any kind of intervention. Efforts to that end were reciprocated with physical violence.
In the recorded livestream, however, Israeli settlers appear to move within the site freely, even poking around the plants from the nursery sequestered in the parking lot. The standoff with the household lasted well into the evening, when the vehicles withdrew from the area. Mahmoud Salhiya, speaking to the public after the incident, explained that he would rather die with dignity in his home than be made a refugee – again – by the occupation.
His family were forcefully expelled by the Irgun and sections of the Haganah Zionist paramilitary organisation, from Ein Karem in 1948 and were resettled in Sheikh Jarrah. He said: "I will burn the house and everything in it, I will not leave here, 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.” Another family member added: “We have nowhere to go.”
However, this fleeting win was quickly crushed in the early hours of Wednesday morning. At around 5:00 am, the occupation forces returned in greater numbers, when the public and the media were not present and the family was completely vulnerable.
They sealed off all access to roads to the house and raided the family home. They physically attacked members of the household and arrested Mahmoud Salhiya as well as other members of the family, who are still held in custody at the time of writing.
Immediately after clearing the house, the bulldozers destroyed the family home and in one fell swoop, a family of 15 people, including five children, was made homeless in the dead of winter.
Adding insult to injury, Israeli forces quickly shared footage of a female Israeli soldier wrapping a blanket on an elderly female member of the Salhiya household without the context that her unit had flattened her home moments before – a transparent attempt at moral posturing.
Residents of Sheikh Jarrah attempted to rally around the family in support, with prominent activist and journalist, Muna al Kurd, also a resident of the neighbourhood, trying multiple times to livestream the broadcast of the destruction on Instagram. She was repeatedly locked out, highlighting a continuing trend of silencing Palestinian voices.
This is only one facet of the Israeli land grab. Only 20 days into the new year, Israel continues to inconsquentially terrorise the Palestinian people. The occupation launched an unprompted airstrike on Gaza on the second day of the new year, committed elderly abuse and murder by beating and elderly man to death and running another over.
They continue to crack down on Palestinian citizens of Israel – while taking selfies – in the al Atrash village in the Naqab desert, protesting against ethnic cleansing by the Jewish National Fund. They have also raided a number of schools, injuring and arbitrarily detaining children in Ramallah and Nablus.
Israel persists in its violation of international law and continues to disregard basic human dignity – and, increasingly, international public opinion as well.
The international community, from organisations to individuals, now widely recognise the illegality of settlements, but must they be built and occupied to receive condemnation? The Salhiya household is a real-time case study on the process of annexation and the abject harm inflicted on the Palestinian people in the process. It demonstrates a blatant disregard for legality and humanity and an overarching totalitarian approach to occupying what is left of Palestine.
This habitual disregard for human life and international law is no longer an affront to the Palestinian people alone. While the whole world is held to a set of standards that it collectively upholds, Israel continues to be the deeply unjustified exception.
Families in Palestine are not waiting for their oppressors to show moral character, but they are still hopeful that the world, as a community, will gather around to support a clear-cut need for justice.
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