By Suheir Sheikh and Zainah El-Haroun
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police in riot gear pushed a Palestinian protester to the ground in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, a moment captured on the smartphones of people looking on.
“See what they’re doing! They’re beating up women!” Aya Khalaf, a Palestinian social media influencer, screamed in the background as she caught the May 9 incident on a live stream to her 187,000 Instagram followers.
The scene is one of several shared on social media from the near-nightly confrontations between Israeli police and protesters against the expulsion of eight Palestinian families from the neighbourhood, which is claimed by Jewish settlers.
The hashtag “#SaveSheikhJarrah” has gained momentum overseas, with British singer Dua Lipa and Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis among those expressing solidarity.
In October last year, an Israeli court ruled in favour of settlers who say the Palestinian families are living on land that used to belong to Jews.
Palestinians are appealing the decision at Israel’s Supreme Court.
But a court hearing was delayed earlier this month amid rising tensions at Sheikh Jarrah – which lies just a few minutes’ walk from the Old City’s Damascus Gate, another recent flashpoint.
Anger over the proposed evictions was a key factor behind tensions in Jerusalem over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which last week escalated far beyond the holy city into the worst hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians for years.
Portraying itself as the defender of Palestinians in Jerusalem, the militant Islamist group Hamas launched a rocket assault on Israel, which hit back with multiple air and artillery strikes on Gaza.
A week later, nearly 200 people have been killed in Gaza, including 58 children, Gaza’s health ministry said, and 10 people have been killed in Israel, two of them children, according to authorities.
On Sunday in Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian driver who had crashed his car into a police roadblock, injuring six officers.
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A tree-lined area of sandstone homes, Sheikh Jarrah is named after a personal physician to Saladin, the Muslim conqueror who seized Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187.
It also houses a site revered by religious Jews as the tomb of an ancient high priest.
The settlers who filed the lawsuit say they bought the land from two Jewish associations that purchased it at the end of the 19th century. Palestinians, who question the legitimacy of the settlers’ documents, have lived there since the 1950s.
Standing outside a settler house that sits beside Palestinian neighbours, Yaakov, a religious Jew who gave only his first name, said: “This is traditionally a Jewish neighbourhood … the Jordanians and the UN settled Arab refugees in these houses, so if there are any settlers here it’s the Arabs who are living here.”
Pessimistic about the chances of winning their eviction case in Israeli courts, Palestinian residents have turned to social media.
“I now have around a quarter of a million followers,” said Mohammed El-Kurd, 23. “I believe that these people are an electronic army.”
In one scene that went viral, his twin sister, Muna, was filmed shouting “You are stealing my house!” at an Israeli. “If I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it,” he shouted back.
Instagram and Twitter were criticised by some social media users earlier this month after they noticed that posts documenting events in East Jerusalem were being deleted. The social media platforms issued an apology, blaming technical errors.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in a 1967 war, later annexing it in a move not recognised by most of the international community who regard settlements there as illegal.
Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, citing historical and religious ties to the land. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
(Reporting by Suheir Sheikh, writing by Zainah El-Haroun; Editing by Mike Collett-White)