Israel’s malign grip on Sheikh Jarrah

There are many faces to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and none of them should make the country feel very proud.

Still, in some places the occupation manifests itself more brutally towards the Palestinians and their property than in others, and in these cases it usually expresses both the arrogance and the true intentions of the occupier.

East Jerusalem is a case in point, and Israel’s attempts to evict Palestinian residents from their homes there clearly highlight its ruthlessness and ill intentions. East Jerusalem, unlike the rest of the West Bank, was annexed, at least de facto, by Israel immediately after the 1967 war when Israeli law was applied to it. This was followed by the building of Jewish settlements all around it, aimed at isolating East Jerusalem and its Arab population from the rest of the West Bank.

In recent years, however, the appetite for land and property among a number of settler organizations has increased to the point where they have been identifying Palestinian neighborhoods where they can enter into a lengthy process, based on an Israeli law that a priori disadvantaged Palestinian residents, to claim entitlement to homes that were owned by Jews before 1948, and push for the eviction the current owners of these homes.

This is taking place in the Old City, and in the neighborhoods of Silwan, Ras Al-’Amud, A-Tur, Abu Dis, and Sheikh Jarrah, which in recent months has become the center of these controversial practices. It is bad enough that the State of Israel should expropriate occupied land from around Jerusalem to encircle its Palestinian eastern parts with Jewish settlements, with the sole aim of rendering nonviable a Palestinian state with its capital within Jerusalem. It is considerably worse to evict Palestinians from their homes and repossess them, and by doing so also signal to the rest of the Arab population of Jerusalem that they are unwelcome in their own city.

In the long and disturbing history of Jewish settlements on occupied land, it has become impossible to discern whether the settlement movement has been serving government policies, or whether the governing bodies of the country have been serving the settlers and their ambitions.

Is it the case that settlers are pawns in some grand strategy of the state to retain in perpetuity the occupied West Bank, and eventually annex it to Israel proper? Or is it exactly the opposite, that consecutive governments over the past 50 years have been turned into simple tools and have become, for all intents and purposes, mere servants of the settlers and their maximalist vision of grabbing as much land in the West Bank as possible, and radically altering its demography to ensure that a viable and independent Palestinian state can never materialize?

Nowhere is this ploy, this collaboration we have seen since the 1970s between Israeli governments and settlers, more obvious than in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians are second-class citizens and bluntly kept that way by Israel.

If the Israeli government does not guarantee the full rights of all of those who live in Jerusalem, it is the duty of the international community to make its concerns well heard and understood in the corridors of power in Israel.

Yossi Mekelberg

Last week the case of the despicable attempts to push Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah out of their homes returned to the Supreme Court, thanks to a legal petition filed by the Israeli nongovernmental organization Ir Amim and the Sheikh Jarrah Community Association, representing residents of the Um Haroun section of the neighborhood.

They filed a legal petition to the Israeli High Court against the General Custodian, which sits within the Ministry of Justice and oversees an Israeli law originally enacted in 1950. The sole aim of this law was to create a legal framework for Israel to confiscate movable and immovable property of Palestinians who are considered “absentees,” defined by Israeli law as persons who were expelled, fled or left the country after Nov. 29, 1947.

In its more recent form, especially after 1967, the law is used to evict Palestinians housed in property that belonged to Jews before 1948. As the occupying force — with almost no limit to its hunger for land and in possession of absolute power vis-a-vis the Palestinians, whether that power be legal or based on sheer force — Israel continues to eject Palestinian residents from homes and land they have lived in for decades, many of them already as refugees.

One hopes, though strongly doubts, that the legal challenge to the eviction of yet more Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah will be successful. However, the issue is not only a legal one but political, too. If the Israeli government genuinely wishes to establish peaceful intercommunal coexistence in Jerusalem, it must clamp down on the actions of settlers who are trying, either through the courts or through intimidation, to claim land and property that indeed belonged before 1948 to Jews — but not to these settlers — and it must prevent the eviction of the Palestinians who currently live there.

Those settlers with more extreme political views are mainly interested in inflaming the already fragile situation in Jerusalem, which they believe will be the means of accomplishing their messianic and distorted vision of Judaism, in which this holy city belongs to them and them alone.

In their immorality and arrogance, and with the support of the Israeli authorities, they victimize those who are almost defenseless against Israel’s legal and military force.

In Jerusalem, Israel wants to have its cake and eat it, too. It de facto annexed and applied Israeli law to the city and those who live there, yet the city’s more than 330,000 Arab citizens do not have full citizenship rights and so are disadvantaged and discriminated against in all walks of life, including recourse to the law — not to mention justice.

A comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution is nowhere to be seen, but this does not relieve Israel of its duties as the occupying, annexing power to ensure the well-being of all those who live in Jerusalem, East or West, and guarantee the equality of everyone in the eyes of the law.

The new self-styled “change government” should live up to Israel’s responsibilities toward the residents of Sheikh Jarrah and remove any attempt to make them refugees one again. This a first, and important, step toward ending the government’s role of being emissaries of the settlement movement.

If the Israeli government does not guarantee the full rights of all of those who live in Jerusalem, it is the duty of the international community to make its concerns well heard and understood in the corridors of power in Israel.

  • Yossi Mekelberg

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