Jerusalem: Israeli police on Sunday detained two members of a prominent family in the contested Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem who led protests against attempts by Jewish colonists to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in the area. The twin brother and sister were released later in the day.
This came as Israeli police said Monday they blocked a planned procession by Jewish ultranationalists through parts of Jerusalem’s Old City, following warnings that it could reignite tensions.
The arrests of Muna and Mohammad Al Kurd, 23, came a day after police detained a well-known Al Jazeera reporter covering a demonstration in the neighbourhood. The reporter, Givara Budeiri, was held for four hours before she was released and sent to a hospital to treat a broken hand. It was not clear how her hand was broken, but her boss blamed police mistreatment.
Earlier this year, heavy-handed police actions in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of east Jerusalem fuelled weeks of unrest that helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Renewed violence could complicate the task of embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political opponents, who formed a fragile and disparate coalition last week, of passing a parliamentary vote of confidence required to replace him and take office. A close ally of Netanyahu oversees the police.
In Sheikh Jarrah, Jewish colonists have been waging a decades-long campaign to evict the families from densely populated Palestinian neighbourhoods just outside the walls of the Old City. The area is one of the most sensitive parts of east Jerusalem, which is home to sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims and which Israel captured in 1967 and annexed in a move not recognised internationally. Israel views the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Colonist groups and Israeli officials say the Sheikh Jarrah dispute is merely about real estate. But Palestinians say they are victims of a discriminatory system. The colonists are using a 1970 law that allows Jews to reclaim formerly Jewish properties lost during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, a right denied to Palestinians who lost property in the same conflict.
The Al Kurd family in Sheikh Jarrah has been at the forefront of months of protests against the planned evictions.
Early Sunday, police took Muna Al Kurd, 23, from her home.
Her father, Nabil Al Kurd, said police “stormed the house in large numbers and in a barbaric manner”.
“I was sleeping, and I found them in my bedroom,” he said. Police then searched the house and arrested his daughter. Video posted on social media showed her being taken away in handcuffs.
“The reason for the arrest is that we say that we will not leave our homes, and they do not want anyone to express his opinion, they do not want anyone to tell the truth,” he said. “They want to silence us.”
Police also searched for her brother, Mohammad, but he was not there. Later, he turned himself in to Jerusalem police.
The siblings’ lawyer, Nasser Odeh, told journalists outside the police station that his clients were accused of “disturbing public security and participation in nationalistic riots.”
On Sunday evening, Muna Al Kurd was released. But before she was freed, police briefly clashed with a crowd outside the station, throwing stun grenades. Later Sunday, Muna posted on Instagram that her brother had been released as well.
The arrests came a day after Al Jazeera’s Budeiri, wearing a protective vest marked “press,” was dragged away by police at a protest in Sheikh Jarrah.
According to witnesses, police asked Budeiri for identification. Colleagues said police did not allow her to return to her car to retrieve her government-issued press card. Instead, they said she was surrounded by police, handcuffed and dragged into a vehicle with darkened windows.
In video footage posted online, Budeiri can be seen in handcuffs, while clutching her notebook and shouting, “Don’t touch, enough, enough.”
Israeli police said entrance to the neighbourhood is limited due to the tense situation, and only accredited journalists are allowed in. They said that when Budeiri was unable to provide her press pass, police “removed her.” They added that Budeiri was arrested after becoming hostile and pushing an officer.
“The Israel Police will allow the freedom of press coverage, provided that these are done in accordance (with) the law while maintaining public order,” according to a statement. The statement did not reference her broken hand.