Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

LONDON: Israel “firmly rejects” pressure not to build in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday following spreading international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.

“We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late,” Netanyahu said during a televised address ahead of national commemorations of the Israeli capture of east Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

“I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do,” Netanyahu said.

His comments come as Israel’s justice ministry said it would delay the key Monday hearing in the case that could see Palestinian families evicted from their Jerusalem homes to make way for Jewish settlers.

“In all the circumstances and in light of the attorney general’s request, the regular hearing for tomorrow, May 10, 2021 (is) canceled,” it said in a statement, adding it would schedule a new hearing within 30 days.

The delay follows days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, fueled in part by the dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Meanwhile, UNICEF urged the Israeli authorities to refrain from using violence against children and release all those detained, after 37 Palestinian children have been injured and arrested in east Jerusalem in the last two days.

“Over the past two days, 29 Palestinian children were injured in east Jerusalem, including in the Old City and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood (and) eight Palestinian children were arrested.

“A one-year old toddler was among those injured. Some children were taken for treatment at hospitals with injuries in the head and the spine,” the UN children’s body said.

UNICEF said it received reports that ambulances were restricted from arriving on location to assist and evacuate the injured and that an on-site clinic was reportedly hit and searched.

“All children should be protected from violence and kept out of harm’s way at all times. Families’ rights to access all places of worship should be preserved and those injured be assisted without restrictions,” it said in a statement.

Pope Francis expressed his concern at the unrest in Jerusalem, saying: “Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”

“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace. I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multireligious identity and multiculture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail,” he said after reciting the Regina Caeli prayer.

Jordan also urged Israel on Sunday to stop what it described as “barbaric” attacks on worshippers in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque and said it would step up international pressure.

Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said Israel should respect worshippers and international law safeguarding Arab rights.

King Abdullah II condemned the violations and said he rejected attempts by Israeli authorities to change the demographic situation in east Jerusalem, and all measures aimed at changing the city’s historical and legal status. The king also called on Israel to adhere to international law and international humanitarian law.

During a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah said Jordan would continue to protect Islamic and Christian holy sites and to preserve its Arab and Islamic identity, and called for coordination between Arab states to put an end to the Israeli violations in east Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque.

“What the Israeli police and special forces are doing, from violations against the mosque to attacks on worshippers, is barbaric (behavior) that is rejected and condemned,” the government said in a statement.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom would do its utmost to protect rights of Palestinians against ownership claims by Jewish settlers.

“Israel as the occupying force carries responsibility for protecting rights of Palestinians in their homes,” Safadi said in comments on state media.

Tunisia, the only Arab member of the UN Security Council, in coordination with Palestine, submitted a request to hold a session on Monday to discuss the dangerous escalation and aggressive practices of the Israeli authorities in Palestinian territories.

The request was supported by China — current president of the council — along with Norway, Ireland, Vietnam, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines and Niger.

The session will also discuss Israeli attacks against the Palestinians and their insistence on their expansionist policies, including settlement plans, demolition and dispossession of homes, displacement of Palestinian families, land grabbing, and obliterating the historical and civilizational identity of Jerusalem, the Tunisian foreign ministry said.

“These practices constitute a flagrant violation of international law, a threat to international peace and security and undermine efforts aimed at achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the region,” the ministry added.

Arab League foreign ministers announced they would hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday at Palestine’s request, which has been supported by a number of countries. 

Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, said in a statement “the meeting will discuss Israeli crimes and attacks in the occupied city of Jerusalem, Islamic and Christian holy sites, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, and attacks on worshipers, in addition to the brutal Israeli attacks and plans to seize the homes of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to empty the city of its residents and displace its people.”

Zaki said the decision was taken to raise the level of the meeting to the ministerial level, instead of ambassadorial, in proportion to the “seriousness of the Israeli attacks that are part of the Zionist regime’s systematic policy to Judaize Jerusalem and change the existing legal and historical status of the city and its sanctities.”

The Arab Parliament also said it will hold an emergency session on May 19 in Cairo to discuss the same issues.

Adel bin Abdulrahman Al-Asoumi, president of the Arab Parliament, stressed the need for Israel to stop the ongoing crimes committed against the Palestinian people, and support all their rights, foremost of which is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is also set to hold an emergency session on Tuesday. 

Dozens of Palestinians and several Israeli police officers have been wounded in clashes in recent days in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the scene of a long-running land dispute and located a short walk from flashpoint holy sites.

The case dates back to before the creation of the state of Israel, when a small Jewish community lived in Sheikh Jarrah.
After Israel’s independence and the 1948 war with its Arab neighbors, east

Jerusalem came under the control of Jordan.
Many refugees settled in the district after fleeing Zionist forces in other parts of what was now Israel.

Israel then seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it.

Early this year, the Jerusalem district court ruled in favor of Jewish settlers who laid claim to land in the Sheikh Jarrah district, now home to around 30 Palestinians from four families.

Palestinians argue that discriminatory laws mean they are unable to claim back their properties inside what is now Israel.
The Palestinian families’ lawyer, Hosni Abu Hussein, also accused the settlers of fraud.

“The registration of the lands in the name of the settlement association took place through fraud and deception, in collusion with the commissioner of public properties and the registrar of Israeli lands,” he told AFP.

The dispute, in a strategic location close to Jerusalem’s Old City, has added fuel to tensions around the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest mosque, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

Hamas in Gaza have threatened attacks against Israel if the high-profile case goes against the Palestinian families.