Jerusalem face-off: Arab, right-wing politicians clash at Sheikh Jarrah

“With blood and spirit we will free Palestine,” the Arab residents and activists chanted as they attempted to block Religious Zionist Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich.

Religious Zionist Party leaders blocked by crowds at Sheikh Jarrah, May 10, 2021. (Credit: Courtesy)
A large street brawl erupted during a Religious Zionist Party Jerusalem Day visit to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where four Palestinian families face eviction.
“With blood and spirit we will free Palestine,” the Arab residents and activists chanted as they attempted to block Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich and MKs Itamar Ben-Gvir and Orit Struck from walking down Othman bin Affan Street, where three of the homes are located.
Just prior to the MKs’ arrival, Joint List parliamentarians paid a solidarity visit, where they greeted the families in danger of evictions with hugs and handshakes.
Smotrich called the Palestinians “terrorists” and warned against capitulation to their demands to remain in their homes.
In preparation for the visit, police cordoned off the street with steel barriers, and officers in riot gear on horseback guarded the entrance to the street.
During the street brawl, police pushed back hard at Joint List MKs, including party head Ayman Odeh, to allow Smotrich to walk down the street to visit the one Jewish home there, which has a large Star of David and an Israeli flag on its roof.
Right-wing politicians support the eviction of the families in favor of Jewish development in the mostly Arab neighborhood, situated near the Tomb of Shimon Hatzadik (Simeon the Just) and on land that was previously owned by Jews prior to the 1948 War of Independence.
The Joint List supports the right of the four Palestinian families to remain. They are part of a group of 28 families who fled their homes, now under sovereign Israel, during the War of Independence. They settled in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which in the aftermath of the 1948 war was under Jordanian rule.
Jordan, with the help of the UN, made a deal with the families: They would give up their refugee status in exchange for homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
Two lower courts have upheld the Jewish property claims, and the High Court of Justice is now weighing whether to hear an appeal. It had been due to rule on the matter Monday, but it has delayed any decision for a month so that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit can weigh in on the matter.
In recent weeks, the street has become a protest site, with left-wing activists and journalists visiting it. Families in danger of eviction have been sitting on plastic chairs set up on the small street to speak with the visitors.
Police have heavily monitored the scene, and clashes have taken place between them and the Palestinians during the week.
Odeh told a reporter he and his party had come to Sheikh Jarrah “to support the struggle of its residents against evicts and the struggle for the Jerusalem residents against the occupation.”
The Arab politicians spoke not just about the Sheikh Jarrah evictions but also against police violence, particularly against worshipers on the Temple Mount.
“I appeal to the Jewish public, to those who want peace and equality,” Odeh said. “I ask that each of you see yourself as part of the just struggle of the Palestinian people against the occupation, on behalf of an independent [Palestinian] state” and in search of a “just peace and for the security of both peoples.”
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman called on the United Nations and the European Union to act forcefully to protect the Palestinians.
Smotrich spoke out against Palestinian violence. It was a disgrace to see that “Jerusalem is under siege,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at fault for reaching out to the Ra’am Party (United Arab List) led by Mansour Abbas as a legitimate coalition partner, Smotrich said. In doing so, he strengthened and legitimized the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and empowered them to rise up in protest, he said.
Smotrich accused Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett and New Hope Party head Gideon Sa’ar of legitimizing and strengthening the Left by contemplating forming a coalition with Meretz and Labor.
“Gideon, Naftali, do not throw away the right-wing ideology by joining the ranks of those who today incite the masses and encourage the insane violence against Jews,” he said.