Sheikh Jarrah: Israeli forces tear down Salhiya house in overnight raid
Israeli forces raided the home of the Salhiya family in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem in the early hours of Wednesday, violently arresting and assaulting family members, before emptying the house and demolishing it.
At around 3am local time, a large number of police units, including counterterrorism and riot police forces with bulldozers, stormed the Salhiya house.
Yasmin Salhiya, resident of the house and daughter of the owner Mahmoud Salhiya, told Middle East Eye the large Israeli force cut off the electricity supply to the house as they raided it, and started firing teargas, blocking everyone’s vision.
Yasmin said officers then assaulted the family and arrested five of them, including Mahmoud. Around 22 supporters who were camping inside the property in solidarity with the family were also assaulted and detained.
“My father was asleep when they took him. They didn’t let him put a jacket or shoes on,” Yasmin, 19, told MEE.
“They separated everyone that was there and started beating the young men before detaining them in the jeeps and taking them away.”
Among those assaulted were Yasmin’s nine-year-old sister Ayah and their aunt.
“They shoved Ayah and assaulted her father, her brothers and her aunt right in front of her. She is distraught,” Yasmin said.
After emptying the houses, Israeli forces started firing rubber bullets at journalists and supporters who were outside the house and prevented ambulances from accessing the site, Yasmin said.
Bulldozers finished the demolition three hours later, leaving the house in ruins and the family's possessions scattered on the ground.
The demolition and displacement of the family took place amid heavy rains and cold weather, forcing those who weren't arrested to seek refuge with relatives.
Eighteen people lived on the property in two adjacent houses, including Mahmoud, his wife and children, his mother and his sister’s family.
“To see the home that I grew up in with my family in this state, I don’t know how to describe my feelings,” Yasmin said.
“We will go back to our home. No matter what they do to us, we will go back. Our message to everyone is stay in your homes. Don’t leave it. Don’t sell it. We’re losing Palestine bit by bit.”
The family's lawyer Ahmad al-Qadmani, who saw the detainees in court after the arrests, told MEE that Mahmoud is strong but feels angry at the injustice he and his family suffered.
"Not only did they demolish the house, but they erased any trace of it by clearing the rubble and flattening the land," Qadmani told MEE.
He said that Israeli forces illegally took advantage of the quiet of the night to carry out the demolition despite an appeal filed to the high court.
"We submitted an appeal to the supreme court yesterday to freeze the demolition order, but we have not heard back until now... it's an aggressive attack that violates laws and regulations," he added.
Qadmani said there was no demolition order on the house to begin with, only an eviction ruling. But authorities illegally razed the house and the land surrounding it regardless.
The eviction order concerns only Mahmoud and his wife, he said, but the bulldozers demolished everything on the entire six dunams land, affecting more people.
Qadmani added that the houses that were demolished are considered listed constructions built before 1947 and therefore protected against demolitions, but this was also ignored by the authorities.
“The municipality itself would reject demolishing buildings like this,” Qadmani said.
“But they will twist the law however they want and take illegal measures just to confiscate Palestinian land and depreive them of their homes and shelters.”
'I want to live with dignity or die'
On Monday, Israeli forces attempted to expel the Salhiya family from their home, as they raided the land it stands on and destroyed five businesses Mahmoud owned.
He then barricaded himself in on the roof of the house and threatened to set fire to himself and the house if Israeli forces tried to remove him.
After a 10-hour standoff, Israeli forces left the area and supporters and journalists were able to go inside. Since then, dozens of people have visited the house to show support, some staying overnight in fear of a late Israeli raid.
"I want to live with dignity or die,” Mahmoud told MEE on Monday.
“I was going to set myself alight because every day I am dying, I’ve been dying for 25 years,” he added, referring to the decades-long pressure he has faced to sell or give up the land.
“Death is better than to stand and watch your home being destroyed… we are dying every day. We have been expelled from our homeland again and again. We are already dead. We are dead inside. We have been dead since 1948," said Mahmoud.
Mahmoud's nephew Abdallah Akkr, who was arrested on Monday while trying to film the bulldozers as they levelled businesses owned by the family, told MEE he was kept in brutal conditions in detention.
“I was arrested for simply filming my house that I lived in being demolished, and placed in a cold cell. I was left begging for water and for information about my family with no one responding,” Akkr told MEE.
"[The demolition] was blatant racism against the Palestinian people.
“I have never felt so downgraded like this in my life. I’ve never felt this hopeless and desperate, all my human rights were taken away from me."
Mahmoud's family has been facing expulsion since 2017, when their land was allocated for school construction, following 23 years of court actions against the Israeli government. Israel issued an ultimatum in December for evacuation of the property on 25 January.
Israel's Jerusalem municipality argues that the Salhiyas have no right over the land that once belonged to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini - which Israel confiscated after it captured the city in 1967 - according to the Absentee Property Law. Mahmoud says the family has owned the house and lived in it for generations, since they were expelled by Zionist militia from Ain Karem in 1948 during the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, the war that led to Israel’s creation.
Sheikh Jarrah has been a significant flashpoint over the past year, after Israel tried to expel Palestinian families from the area last May to make way for Israeli settlers. This prompted widespread protests across the occupied West Bank and the 48 Palestinian community inside Israel, as well as a large-scale military operation in the besieged Gaza Strip.