What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah?

Violence has been escalating as the future of families in Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood located in East Jerusalem, is still uncertain.

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This week, we’re tackling this question: What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah? 

TL;DR: Sheikh Jarrah is a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood located in East Jerusalem. While Israeli officials call the situation a real estate dispute, the Palestinian experience of losing their homeland and dispossession is over 70 years old. The UN's human rights office called on Israel to immediately halt all forced expulsions, but violence has been escalating as the future of families in Sheikh Jarrah is still uncertain. 

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An important note: Much like how we analyze Canadian policies, our analysis of Israeli policies is about state actions. We also recognize the need to ensure conversation on these issues doesn't verge into antisemitism, which is present among hate crimes in Canada.

Before getting started: We try to keep these things at around 500 words — which means it’s impossible to get into the whole history of Israel and Palestine. Before understanding everything today, you need to understand the basics of the conflict. We also encourage you, as always, to click on the articles we have linked throughout.

We’re going to zoom in on Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood located in East Jerusalem. Violence has grown in the past few weeks for a few reasons, such as a couple of elections in both Israel and Palestine. Former US President Donald Trump also “further softened Washington’s stance on illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.” 

But Sheikh Jarrah has also been the centre of a decades-old legal battle over the fate of Palestinian families’ lives. Israeli officials say the families are facing “forced evictions” which they often dismiss as “a real estate dispute.” Israel has been escalating tensions by suppressing Palestinian protests during Ramadan.

For Palestinians, the expulsion of families from their homes paints a larger picture of the struggle to fight efforts of colonization and occupation of Palestinian land. Palestinians refer to it as “Al Nakba,” which literally translates as “The Catastrophe.” It refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and the creation of Israel through a violent process that also entailed the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes.

Now, Sheikh Jarrah residents are speaking out, telling their stories of being forced out. The Palestinian experience of dispossession and loss of a homeland is over 70 years old.

May 7: the UN's human rights office called on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions. Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, also urged Israel to stop demolitions and evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.

May 9: the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a ruling on the forced expulsion of four Palestinian families after Isreali forces violently overpowered protests and prayers. The case was delayed by up to 30 days to allow the Attorney General to review it.

May 9 is also the beginning of Jerusalem day, when Israelis celebrate the capture of the eastern part of the city during the 1967 Six-Day War. Even though the route of the Jerusalem Day march changed, tensions were still high leading into the next day. 

May 10 things escalated when Israeli police stormed Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the world saw some of the worst clashes in the city since 2014, with more than 300 Palestinians and 21 Israeli police wounded. Thousands of worshippers had gathered to defend themselves from encroachment by settlers. (It was the second time this week that Israeli forces broke up a sit-in protest by Palestinians. Prayers during Laylat al-Qadr, the most holy night during the Muslim month of Ramadan, also ended in violence.)

In response to the violence, the Hamas militant group fired rockets into Israel from Gaza just after its deadline for Israel to withdraw its security forces from the mosque’s Jerusalem compound, and from Sheikh Jarrah.

May 10:Toronto residents protested outside the Israeli consulate. The organizers said they were protesting to condemn the violence and the pending forced evictions. 

May 12: Israel carried out an intense barrage of airstrikes to Gaza, killing senior Hamas figures. Israel said that it had hit 130 “military targets” in Gaza, killing 15 “Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives.” Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman of the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said 43 per cent of the victims in Gaza are children and women.

Shortly after, the three biggest US airlines canceled flights from the States to Tel Aviv.

On the streets, violence by both Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab mobs has broken out.

At a news conference on May 12, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada must apply pressure to ratchet down the spiralling conflict in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. He called on Ottawa to halt arms sales to Israel and prevent more guns from deployment in clashes he says breach international law. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded by asking all sides to protect civilians and end the violence, but said “Canada supports Israel’s right to assure its own security.”

Today is Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan and is usually a day for Muslims around the world to celebrate. But now, they express sadness and concern over the escalating violence. 

Here’s someone to follow:

The Globe and Mail’s Tom Cardoso won Journalist of the Year and his data work is definitely something to follow. He won for his story looking at racial bias behind bars and federal inmates' risk assessments. His most recent work is also worth a read, where he is part of an investigation Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy program helped pad bottom lines instead of save jobs.

Here’s a story to check out:

This week from The Narwhal comes a cool story through the Local Journalism Initiative by Matt Simmons. As B.C. initiates the Kispiox timber supply review, locals explore options for non-timber forest products and work together to support sustainable forestry opportunities.