Jewish settlers and right-wing Israeli activists are also taking a stand there. They say that the Palestinian residents are squatters, and that the district, which is built beside the tomb of a Jewish high priest from antiquity, was Jewish until 1948.
“I would ask you,” said Aryeh King, a settler leader and deputy mayor of Jerusalem, “if you are the owner of the property and somebody is squatting on your property, wouldn’t you have the right to take him out from your property?”
Hundreds of East Jerusalem residents have gathered in Sheikh Jarrah each night for the past week to argue the opposite. Their vigils often begin with outdoor iftar meals, marking the end of the daily Ramadan fast, followed by protests and dancing, culminating in clashes with the police. The police have charged them on horseback, sprayed them with skunk water and thrown stun grenades.
Cars have been burned, guns drawn, scores arrested. Last month, a Jewish member of Parliament from a predominantly Arab party was beaten by the police. On Thursday night, a far-right lawmaker, Itamar Ben Gvir, set up a makeshift office opposite a home listed for eviction, setting off a brawl between protesters and settlers.
The United Nations and the European Union have expressed alarm.
“We’re deeply concerned about the heightened tensions in Jerusalem,” the State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Friday, calling for calm “to de-escalate tensions and avoid violent confrontation.”
The Israeli government has tried to play down the conflict, describing the case as a private matter between the Arab families who moved to the neighborhood in the 1950s, and the settler groups whom Israeli courts have ruled are the legal owners of the families’ homes.
In a statement on Friday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian terrorists were “presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalistic cause in order to incite violence in Jerusalem.”