Palestinian activist arrested in east Jerusalem flashpoint district

Israeli police on Sunday arrested a prominent activist campaigning against the threatened expulsion of Palestinian families from homes in the Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Police took Mona el-Kurd, 23, away for questioning and left a summons for her twin brother, Muhammad, their father told AFP a day after police had also detained an Al Jazeera journalist covering a demonstration nearby.

The family’s lawyer, Nasser Odeh, said police charged Mona el-Kurd with “acts that disturb peace and order” and “riotous acts”.

In footage widely shared on social media, she was shown handcuffed and taken by officers out of her family’s home in Sheikh Jarrah, whose struggle has crystalized Palestinian anger over Israel’s settlement movement.

Protests in Sheikh Jarrah spread early last month into the city’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, sparking a crackdown by Israeli security forces against Palestinians there that further inflamed tensions.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, responded by launching volleys of rockets towards Israel on May 10, triggering an 11-day war between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants.

While Palestinians and their backers see the issue as a microcosm of the wider conflict over land, Jewish settlers and their supporters have labelled it a property dispute to be decided by Israeli courts.

– Looming evictions –

The el-Kurd twins, whose family is currently under threat of losing their home, have led an active protest movement on the streets and online.

They have gained more than 180,000 Twitter follower, and more than half a million on Instagram, using the hashtags #SheikhJarrah and #SaveSheikhJarrah to bring their neighbourhood’s plight global attention. 

Their father, who spoke to AFP in front of the police station, dubbed his daughter’s arrest part of “an operation to terrorise the parents, because the voice that emerged from the neighbourhood was thanks to its youth”.

He said his son Muhammad had been away teaching in the West Bank city of Ramallah but was on his way back to cooperate with the police summons.

Police did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

Last month, as tensions in Jerusalem mounted during the build-up to the Gaza fighting, the Israeli supreme court postponed a hearing in the Sheikh Jarrah cases until further notice.

Under Israeli law, if Jews can prove that their families lived in east Jerusalem before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that created the state of Israel, they can request the “return” of their property, even if Palestinian families have been living there for decades. 

Palestinians whose ancestors became refugees in the 1948 war have no means to retrieve their homes or land in modern-day Israel.

Israeli right groups Ir Amim says up to 1,000 Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and the nearby Silwan district face being displaced.

– Journalist arrested –

Sheikh Jarrah has also drawn the attention of press freedom watchdogs, as journalists say they have been targeted by police while trying to report on demonstrations there.

On Saturday Israeli forces arrested Al Jazeera reporter Givara Budeiri “in a brutal manner”, the network said in a statement, adding that authorities had destroyed a videographer’s camera as he was trying to work.

Budeiri was released from custody several hours after her arrest.

Al Jazeera television’s acting director-general, Mostefa Souag, decried “the systematic targeting of our journalists”, dubbing it “in total violation of all international conventions”.

The Paris-headquartered Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has voiced concern over Israel’s “disproportionate use of force against journalists”.

It criticised “attacks” on reporters filming in Sheikh Jarrah, the detention of Palestinian reporters, and the Jewish state’s demolition of a tower in the besieged Gaza Strip where news outlets operated.

During their military campaign in Gaza, Israel levelled the 13-storey building that housed the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television along with the US news agency The Associated Press after warning the structure’s owner to evacuate.

Israel defended the strike, alleging the building also hosted a Palestinian “terrorist” intelligence office. 

Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid al-Omari, accused Israel of trying “to silence media that are witnessing, documenting and reporting the truth”. 

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