Will anyone douse the fiery tensions in Sheikh Jarrah?

Too many conflicting interests of different groups stir in the cauldron and, as usual, it is the residents who pay the high price.

 PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS gather in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, February 14. (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS gather in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, February 14.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)

It was a matter of time before the Yoshibiev family’s neighbors moved from setting the family car on fire to something more serious.

Indeed, after burning their car nine times, the house was set on fire last Friday evening (luckily, the family was not there and their lives were saved).

The Yoshibievs, the only Jewish family residing in the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood, also known as Sheikh Jarrah, are safe for the moment. But the tension and the violence in the neighborhood do not seem to be going in the direction of calming down. Why should it? On both sides, Jewish and Arab, nobody seems interested or capable of reaching a viable solution.

Israeli law deprives the Palestinian heirs or owners of properties that belonged to those who fled what became the State of Israel in 1948 from expecting to get these properties back, which are all inhabited by Jewish Israelis. However, Israelis who can prove that they had properties in the east side until 1948, have the right, according to Israeli law, to retrieve these properties – including the expulsion of Palestinians who have been living there since. These are the elements that create the explosive situation of the Palestinians in several neighborhoods in the city, in which they live in constant fear that one morning they will be expelled from their homes.

Into this entanglement, other actors come in, some of them do not seem interested in calming the situation. These are the Jewish associations, like Ateret Cohanim and others, striving to move as many Jewish families as possible primarily into the Old City, and also in some Arab neighborhoods, such as Shekih Jarrah. On the other side, there are some NGOs who fight to save the Arabs families from these expulsions, mostly through alerting the international public opinion, as well as representing these families at the Israeli courts.

 Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir sits at a table as Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, February 13, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir sits at a table as Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, February 13, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

While the struggle for international attention has won quite a success, the procedure at the Israeli courts, including the High Court of Justice, has never yielded a positive result. Once the procedure to retrieve the properties was launched none of these families have ever obtained a ruling in their favor, since the Israeli law recognized the rights of Jewish homeowners before 1948.

On Monday, after a three-day intensive investigation, the police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) arrested two suspects in the arson of the Yoshibiev family property. The police investigation revealed that the apartment was set on fire with Molotov cocktails, and decided to reinforce the visible and covert forces in the neighborhood to prevent recurrences. Two suspects were arrested and transferred to the Shin Bet.

Into this explosive situation, MK Itamar Ben Gvir announced that his office would operate from Sheikh Jarrah, immediately causing a large riot to break out, as the area already appeared to be on the verge of boiling and just before an explosion. Eventually, Ben Gvir was convinced to take back the announcement, but the atmosphere has become more explosive, simmering until the next round.

At the moment, it seems that the municipality is the only relatively calming factor on the horizon. Mayor Moshe Lion instructed the emergency and security teams in the municipality to tour the neighborhood with the police, and prepare a guarding and monitoring infrastructure, including electronic means, in order to maintain calm in the neighborhood. “The main task of the municipality is to ensure the peace of the residents,” explained Lion, who only accused the rioters who threw Molotov cocktails, but added that now, the task is to ensure the peace of the residents and calm the spirits. Sources close to Lion say that he is dialoguing with some of the Arab residents.

Will it be enough? Chances are slim. Too many conflicting interests of different groups stir in the cauldron and, as usual, it is the residents who pay the high price.

Perhaps, the best answer was the reaction of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared, “We do not need provocateurs to come and set the region on fire solely for political purposes. We do not need Ofer Kasif or Ben Gvir to run Jerusalem. That is the job of the Israeli government and not anyone else.”

Perhaps, indeed.