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From Sheikh Jarrah to Silwan, Israel’s ethnic cleansing goes with impunity

Jul 07,2021 - Last updated at Jul 07,2021

The threat of forced eviction of Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem has not subsided as Israel’s high court considers its final ruling, which is expected soon. The high profile case has drawn international attention, thanks to social media influencers and the courageous stand of the neighbourhood’s residents. The threat of evictions and Jewish settlers’ incursions of Al Aqsa Mosque under Israeli protection during the holy month of Ramadan triggered a bloody showdown between militant Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel. 

While a shaky truce continues to hold Israel’s plan to demolish tens of houses in Silawn, a town situated on the edge of Al Aqsa Mosque compound, may trigger another clash and unleash waves of protests across the West Bank. Since Israel occupied and later annexed East Jerusalem it has been following a policy of ethnic cleansing aimed at forcing the city’s Arab residents to leave. Imposing hefty fines and taxes and denying Palestinians building permits while punishing those who expand their existing buildings without permits by demolishing the entire structure are facets of this policy.  

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that in 2020 at least 218 Palestinian households in East Jerusalem had eviction cases filed against them, the majority initiated by settler organizations, placing 970 people, including 424 children, at risk of displacement. The settlers are using a 1970 Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim properties lost during the 1948 war, a right denied to Palestinians who lost property in the same conflict, including Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is the same law that is being used to claim Palestinian property in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. A total of 65 families in Sheikh Jarrah are threatened with eviction. At least 10 families in that neighbourhood have already been evicted.

The Silwan case is broader and more dangerous. Israel wants to raze down tens of buildings to set up a Biblical park. Since 1967 at least 74 families have been evicted in Silwan, but now the threat of immediate demolitions will affect 20 houses while Israeli courts study property claims filed by a Jewish settler group that could affect 86 Palestinian families. The town is home to 50,000 Palestinians who do not have Israeli nationality.

It is important to note that the move to evict Palestinians from their homes, especially in areas close to the Noble Sanctuary or what Israel calls the Temple Mount is politically and ideologically motivated and has little to do with legal procedures. Israeli courts provide these unlawful evictions with a legal cover even though such measures are simply a breach of international law.

What is infuriating is that the international community does little to condemn such war crimes and in many cases looks the other way as Israel builds and expands illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on stolen Palestinian lands. To say that the UN and most governments consider these settlements illegal is not enough. As to the forced evictions, they have been going on for years but at individual levels and smaller scales. Today Israel is threatening to carry out mass evictions and wholesale demolition of Palestinian homes.

The recent war between Israel and Gaza has focused attention on the plight of Sheikh Jarrah residents and Israel got its fair share of negative media coverage. But rights activists say that Israel is biding its time and waiting for the media attention to shift elsewhere before it carries out more evictions and demolitions.

The objective is clear and is being driven by a dangerous cocktail of far right ideology and religious bigotry. Far right Israeli politicians and Jewish settler groups want to Judaise the holy city and its environs and the only thing standing in their way are the Palestinian residents. For their steadfastness to continue they need help to endure pressure and intimidation present their case in courts and bring world attention to their calamity.

Unfortunately, the existing funds and endowments, mostly non-governmental, can only do so much and their resources are limited. There is a need to set up a more visible body that aims at supporting the steadfastness of Palestinians in the Holy City.

But even then such efforts could unravel while Israel continues its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem with impunity. Western governments cannot speak about supporting the two-state solution, which includes Israeli withdrawal from occupied East Jerusalem, while saying nothing when it violates international laws and conventions on a daily basis. The so-called Israeli exceptionalism, where Israel is tolerated for failing to respect and implement laws and resolutions, must end but that will not happen until there is accountability.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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