US: Israel must refrain from Palestinian demolitions like in Sheikh Jarrah

Members of the UNSC condemned the demolition of two homes in the contentious east Jerusalem neighborhood.

 Palestinians with gas cylinders stand on a rooftop of a house being evacuated by Israeli special forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. January 17, 2022. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Palestinians with gas cylinders stand on a rooftop of a house being evacuated by Israeli special forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. January 17, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Israel must halt its demolition of Palestinian homes, the United States and other members of the UN Security Council declared after it razed two homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah early Wednesday morning.

"To make progress, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority must refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution," US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council.

This includes "demolitions, and evictions – like what we saw in Sheikh Jarrah," she told the UNSC at its monthly meeting in New York on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Other council members took a harsher tone.

Ireland's Ambassador to the UN Geraldine Byrne Nason said that what happened in Sheikh Jarrah was "part of an ongoing pattern of demolitions, evictions and settlement expansion across the West Bank including east Jerusalem, which continues apace. 

 A MEETING of the UN Security Council earlier this year. (credit: JOHN MINCHILLO/REUTERS) A MEETING of the UN Security Council earlier this year. (credit: JOHN MINCHILLO/REUTERS)

"These actions have severe humanitarian consequences – and, this incident, in particular, threatens the fragile status quo in Jerusalem and risks increasing violence," she said.

"International Humanitarian Law, and in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits the unnecessary destruction of private property," Nason said.

"Once again, we call on Israel, as the occupying power, to fulfill its obligations toward this community and to cease its harmful practice of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian property."

Norway's Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, who chaired the meeting, said that "Last night, another Palestinian family was evicted from their home in east Jerusalem. This must stop!"

The United Kingdom, Mexico and Russia were among the member states that spoke out about the issue. After the meeting, Ireland and France, two European Union members of the UNSC, issued a statement against the demolitions. They were joined by former council member Estonia.

At issue is a property dispute between the Jerusalem Municipality and the Sulhia family, whose ownership to the property is contested and has not been upheld by the courts. The Jerusalem Municipality also maintains that the two homes on the property were illegally built. 

The legal battle dates back to the late 1990s, but the family's hold on the property became more difficult in 2017, when the city expropriated the land for public use. It plans to build a school there for Arab children with disabilities.

The eviction and demolition of the two Sulhia family homes took place during an appeal by the family to the Jerusalem District Court.

The Palestinians and the international community view the demolition as part of the larger narrative of Israeli evictions of illegal Palestinian homes in favor of public projects or Jewish homes.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan defended the demolitions. 

"We are talking about a family that stole public lands for their own private use, while these lands have been earmarked for the building of a school for children with special needs," Erdan told the Security Council. 

"This is a municipal issue that has gone through all of the respected channels of the independent Israeli legal system, yet nevertheless the Palestinians use this issue – and this institution’s Pavlovian anti-Israel response – for their own political gains," he added.