Violence mounts over Palestinian evictions as Israeli's mark Jerusalem Day

Violence has continued through the weekend as Israeli police forces clash with Palestinian protesters

As is so often the case, the past and the present are colliding in Jerusalem.

Clashes in the Old City started early Monday morning as Israeli police and Palestinian youths confronted each other on and around the Temple Mount, a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews.

The renewed disturbances follow the most violent weekend in this city for years. There’s a lot in the mix, including it being the last few days of Ramadan.

For Israelis Monday is Jerusalem Day, their annual celebration of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem during 1967’s Six Day War.

Events planned for the day include a provocative march by Israelis through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. 

Credit: AP

Tensions this year are particularly high this year because it falls as Israel’s Supreme Court was due to consider evicting Arab families from one of the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods seized in 1967.

On Sunday night it was decided that the case be postponed for consideration at a less fraught time.

Jewish nationalists have laid claim to the Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah on the basis that the property was owned by Jewish groups before 1948 and the War of Independence, after which they had to flee as East Jerusalem fell under Jordanian control.

During the 1950s the Jordanians allowed Palestinian families forced to flee Israel to settle in Sheikh Jarrah. 

Loud bangs echoed around the Western Wall holy site on Monday

Now some of the older among them are threatened with becoming refugees for the second time in their lives.

Since 1970 Israeli law has allowed Jews to reclaim land owned by Jews before 1948.

There is no reciprocal law allowing Palestinians to reclaim the homes they lost when they were forced to flee what is now Israel. 

The legal battle over Sheikh Jarrah goes back 15 years, but as crunch time approached tensions rose and there have been clashes in the area in recent weeks.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry accuses the Palestinians of presenting a real estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause in order to incite violence.

However the Palestinians and human rights groups say the action to evict the families is more about ethnic cleansing than real estate. 

Sheikh Jarrah has been home to eminent and respected Arab families. There are a number of consulates there, including the UK one, the French and the Italian.

The UN says evictions would violate Israel’s obligations as an occupier under international law. The EU has also asked the Israelis not to expel the families.

Tensions in Jerusalem are rising at a time of political instability too. 

Deadlock in the Knesset is preventing the formation of a new Israeli government, while in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has just called off elections that were due to take place later this month.

The latest violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque came after mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israeli authorities in the Old City. Credit: AP

Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist rulers of Gaza, have waded in as well, threatening Israel with "a heavy price" if the Palestinians families are expelled.

Hamas were expected to do well in the postponed West Bank elections, and that is probably the reason that polling isn’t going ahead.

In stark legal terms Sheikh Jarrah is a real estate dispute, but given the history of this place there is so much more to it than that.

It’s about occupation, the rights (or lack of them) of the conquered, the might of the conqueror, the spoils of war, belonging and dignity.

In short, it goes to the heart of the conflict which today looks in danger of reigniting.