Israeli police demolish Palestinian family’s home after lengthy standoff

JERUSALEM — Israeli police demolished a Palestinian family’s East Jerusalem home Wednesday after a high-profile standoff which saw family members take to the roof in protest.

An “eviction order of illegal buildings” was carried out in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Israel Police said in a statement, adding that the land will be used to build a school for children with special needs.

The family’s lawyer said that the demolition was illegal.

Mahmoud Salhiyeh, 50, who lived in the house with his wife and children, alongside a another house where his sister and her five children lived, took to the roof Monday and was threatening to burn the house down by igniting a gas canister, rather than hand it over to the authorities.

Israeli forces escort a man on crutches away from the ruins of a Palestinian house they demolished in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Wednesday. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP – Getty Images

“I will blow myself up, with the house, with the children, with everything,” he told NBC News by phone as he stood on the roof with others Monday. He eventually came down.

An excavator came to raze the property to the ground early Wednesday. NBC News saw personal items such as children’s books and school bags, family photos, clothes and shoes strewn in the rubble. Israel security forces at the scene prevented the family from retrieving anything.

Police said the eviction was been approved by multiple courts, including the Jerusalem District Court, and that the order was first issued in 2017.

“Members of the family living in the illegal buildings were given countless opportunities to hand over the land with consent, but unfortunately they refused to do so, even after meetings and repeated dialogue attempts by the Jerusalem municipality,” a police spokesperson said in a statement.

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The Municipality of Jerusalem says 18 classrooms, 6 kindergartens, sports fields and leisure facilities are set to be built on the land and that the school will be open to local Arab community. The authority accused the family of building illegally on the land.

Members of the Salhiya family protest on Tuesday, ahead of their eviction by Israeli Police and the Jerusalem municipality.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP – Getty Images

However, Waleed Abu Tayeh, the Salhiyah family’s lawyer, said the order was unlawful and went beyond what had been agreed in court.

“Mahmood was willing to evict his home, but they demolished his house even though they have an eviction order, not a demolition one. This is illegal,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Tayeh also said that the authorities demolished Mahmoud Salhiyeh’s sister’s house, which was not covered by the order.

NBC News has contacted Israel Police and the Jerusalem Municipality about these claims.

A member of the Israeli forces stands by the ruins of a Palestinian house they demolished, in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Wednesday. Menahem Kahana / AFP – Getty Images

Dozens of longtime Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah are battling efforts by Jewish settlers to evict them from their homes in an area that has been a frequent site of unrest in recent years.

That case, which has been in Israel’s Supreme Court for months, has drawn global attention and fueled last year’s Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The Salhiyah family say they purchased the property before 1967, when Israel captured east Jerusalem, while the state has argued in court that the family does not have rights to the property.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. It later annexed the eastern half of the city — home to most of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population — in a move unrecognized by most of the international community. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem and Patrick Smith from London.

Paul Goldman contributed.

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