Tensions are high in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, which has seen repeated clashes between Palestinians and Israelis over the past few weeks. Far-right Jewish groups have regularly been harassing Muslims who gather in a nearby square for nightly Iftars. These confrontations regularly turn violent. Worsening the situation is the clear bias of the police. Even though both sides were involved in the violence, all nine arrests reported on Thursday were of Palestinians. This was despite reports and some footage of Israelis firing guns, pepper-spraying Palestinians, and hurling rocks, chairs, and even firebombs.
The tensions heated up last week after an Israeli court ordered the eviction of dozens of Palestinians thanks to a law that allows Jews to claim property they say they have owned before the creation of Israel in 1948. Palestinians have no such rights. The law has in the past been abused by lawyers and settler groups to evict Arabs using forged documents or outright coercion. Meanwhile, there have been cases where Palestinians had authentic pre-1948 ownership documents rejected by Israeli courts.
In the case of East Jerusalem, nationalist Jews have long tried to expand the Jewish population of the area through legal and illegal means. This is because Palestinians want the Muslim-majority East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, while nationalist Jews have long laid claim to all of Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah has its own significance because it is home to a shrine believed to be the tomb of Simeon the Just, a site popular among Jewish pilgrims.
Incidentally, while the authenticity of the Jewish shrine has long been questioned, the neighbourhood is named for a historical figure, Salahuddin Ayyubi's personal doctor, who lived in the area after the conquest of Jeruselum. That famous resident had made this area popular among the Muslim elite. However, today, thanks to Israel's apartheid policies, the Muslim sections are only a shadow of their former selves. The Israeli Supreme Court could easily stop this by reviewing ownership documents sent by Jordan. But that would mean taking on the settlers, which the court has rarely been willing to do.