Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem on Wednesday threatened to forcibly evict four Palestinian families they claim are living on property belonging to Jews in the neighborhood of Silwan.
The settlers said they would hire private security firms to implement the evictions if the four families, which include 40 individuals, do not leave by July 4.
The Palestinian families are living in a structure that was once a Yemenite synagogue in Silwan, located near the neighborhood’s controversial Beit Yonatan structure.
Beit Yonatan, a seven-story residential structure, was built illegally in the heart of the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood by the nationalist association Ateret Cohanim.
Despite police discussions in preparation for the evacuation of Beit Yonatan several weeks ago, the implementation has been postponed until at least the end of the month.
There is a standing order, issued two years ago, to evacuate and seal Beit Yonatan, where ten Jewish families reside. Jerusalem municipal officials have yet to enforce the order, despite court rulings and orders from the former attorney general.
Meanwhile, the Beit Yonatan settlers claimed on Wednesday that police have not evicted the Palestinian families due to political constraints and have warned they would take matters onto their own hands next month.
National Union MK Uri Ariel raised the issue Wednesday during a Knesset discussion with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
The settlers are justifying the eviction by claiming deeds for the property show it was owned by Yemenite Jews who lived there from the late 19th century until the 1948 War of Independence.
Aharonovitch said police are prepared to evacuate the structure, but that he has been instructed to delay the action due to political considerations.
“There is discrimination in everything related to the enforcement applied by the state and prosecution in Jerusalem,” said a spokesperson for the Jewish community in Silwan.
“It is unclear why the state insists on evacuating Beit Yonatan despite a proposed compromise over the matter,” the spokesperson continued. “On the other hand, the same authorities do not implement a court order that unequivocally called for the evacuation of Arab families who invaded a synagogue belonging to Jews.”
Silwan, home to some 50,000 Palestinians and 70 Jewish families, has been at the center of a battle between Israeli Jews and Palestinians in their bids to retain control over East Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem municipality on Monday approved preliminary plans to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in the neighborhood as part of a plan to build a tourist center there.
The U.S. State Department criticized the decision, calling it the kind of step that undermines trust fundamental to progress in the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has said the plan gives a much-needed facelift to Jerusalem’s decaying al-Bustan neighborhood, which Israel calls Gan Hamelech, or the King’s Garden.
The plan calls for the construction of shops, restaurants, art galleries and a large community center on the site where some say the biblical King David wrote his psalms.
The 22 displaced families would be allowed to build homes elsewhere in the neighborhood, though it’s not clear who would pay for them.