Fighting between armed Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip and Israel, sparked by attempts to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, has stopped. But Israel’s belligerent measures there have not ended, with the area now completely blocked off and no Palestinians, journalists or aid workers allowed in or out.
Israeli security forces fire tear gas at Palestinian protesters in Sheikh Jarrah (photo AFP)
Israel’s cold war is part of an Israeli policy of isolating Palestinian areas. It refuses to submit to the notion of victory that the Gaza-based Hamas is trying to promote, stipulating that calm in the Gaza Strip and the end of military operations there is conditional on an end of aggressions and abuses in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. Hamas insists that the end of Israeli aggression is part of the ceasefire agreement.
Palestinian families await eviction in this Jerusalem neighbourhood, and settlers have been able to seize 28 homes there. The new occupiers fly the Israeli flag and tighten security around the perimeter. Clashes with Palestinian families rage on because they believe that if they do not resist their homes will be next.
Israel frames the issue as a legal dispute about the ownership of several homes in this strategic district in Occupied Jerusalem, and Israeli courts are adjudicating the battle between Palestinian families and a group of settlers that claim their homes. Palestinians are convinced this is a tactic to place restrictions on them and evacuate the occupied city of its original inhabitants, as a step towards the complete Judification of Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority wants East Jerusalem, where Sheikh Jarrah is located, to be the capital of the future Palestinian state. Israel, meanwhile, believes a united East and West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, backed by measures that have become de facto in occupied Jerusalem. There is also the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, made by former US president Donald Trump.
Nahalat Shimon, a US-based Jewish group that supports Jewish settlers living in Palestinian areas in Jerusalem, claims it owns these homes and that Palestinian residents have not paid rent and must therefore be evicted. The deputy mayor of Jerusalem said that East Jerusalem must not be void of Jews, which explains why Israel insists on planting Israeli families in this neighbourhood while expelling Palestinians from it.
The alleged legal dispute being heard in Israeli courts will not result in a clear-cut legal verdict in favour of settlers that convinces global public opinion. Israeli courts mostly rely on controversial laws to decide these cases, such as the Absentee Property Law and other laws that presuppose all Palestinian land and property in Jerusalem to be owned by the state of Israel, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, where settlers want to rebuild the Temple Mount on its ruins. These laws stipulate that Palestinians must pay a price for living in Jerusalem. There are also intense attempts to place restrictions on Palestinians in Jerusalem, such as banning them from upgrading their homes and not issuing building permits inside the city.
Daniel Seidman, an Israeli lawyer specialising in Jewish settlement activities in East Jerusalem, asserts, “It is no coincidence that the Solomon Temple and Sheikh Jarrah sparked violence, and there are intense efforts to evict Palestinians who live there and replace them with settlers, based on religious beliefs.”
Seidman said Israel is targeting four Arab areas in Occupied Jerusalem: two in Sheikh Jarrah and two in Silwan in southern Jerusalem. This is the first phase of Israel’s extensive efforts to displace Jerusalem Palestinians, in the largest operation since the 1967 War.
According the latest Palestinian reports issued by the Information Centre at the Palestinian News Agency, some 1,250 Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan Al-Hawa in the city of Silwan are waiting for their forced displacement orders. Zoheir Al-Rajbi, member of the Committee for the Defence of Palestinian Homes in Batan Al-Hawa, says, “The goal of the occupation goes beyond evacuating homes to the extent of tearing down Al-Aqsa Mosque, building Solomon’s Temple, and evacuating what is known as the Holy Basin that overlooks Al-Aqsa. Some 700-800 people are at risk of being thrown out onto the streets without shelter if the occupation courts implement those orders.”
Hassan Khater, an expert on Jerusalem affairs, believes Israeli occupation has targeted Jerusalem since the beginning of the conflict with the Palestinians, noting that Jerusalem is a strategic goal for Israel’s settlement and Judification efforts. “According to Israeli law, more than one third of the buildings in Jerusalem are in violation of Israeli building codes and have demolition orders, amounting to some 20,000 homes in the Holy City. This confirms there is a real war in Jerusalem between Palestinians and the Israeli occupation, and Israel is deliberately targeting Arab presence in the Holy City.”
Regarding Israeli restrictions in Jerusalem, Khater adds: “The taxes in Jerusalem are highly inflated, and Israel imposes astronomical taxes on Jerusalem homes and residents.”
Although Israel is in shock over the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip and even within the 1948 territories due to Israel’s recent assault on Jerusalem, there are many factors causing it to continue with these measures in the occupied city. Pressure is building up from the right wing in Israel to continue settlement building and Judification in Jerusalem. Israeli officials also want to show they are not subject to Hamas’s demands to end aggressions in Jerusalem.
The issue of Jerusalem is sensitive in Israel, especially for right-wing and Jewish religious political parties, which have almost half of the Knesset seats (52 out of 120), and are a strong source of pressure on officials in Israel. However, recent massive global solidarity with the Palestinian cause, Arab pressure and the shift in the US administration’s position on Israeli aggression are a serious challenge for the political regime in Israel. This right-wing bloc faces the possibility that its leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could exit the political scene for the first time in 12 years, as his political rivals have nearly formed a government led by Yair Lapid, mostly composed of left-wing, centre and even Yamina Party led by Naftali Bennet, who was once Netanyahu’s ally.
“Recent events in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem left a strong impression on the policies of the occupation,” states Khater. “We saw Netanyahu personally hand over the issue of Jerusalem neighbourhoods to legal counsel, which means the issue has been removed from the courts and has become a political one.”
Khater continues: “It is now a political issue and Netanyahu is asking the courts to delay their decision until further notice due to military and security events on the ground, as well as international human rights groups championing the cause of Jerusalem residents and threatening to take the matter to the International Criminal Court.” He adds that some international organisations are now seeking to put Israel on trial because of Jerusalem. This has forced the Israeli government to delay the issue and pressure Israeli courts to postpone their verdict.
Israeli aggression in Occupied Jerusalem at Sheikh Jarrah and Batan Al-Hawa have not ended, while raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque also continue despite the ceasefire – albeit at a slower pace. Egypt sent Intelligence Chief Abbas Kamel on a shuttle visit between Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Gaza to solidify the ceasefire, de-escalate any future confrontations and discuss rebuilding what Israel destroyed during its war on Gaza.
The next period will show just how successful the Egyptian mediation – undertaken with Arab and international support – has been in persuading Israel to stop its aggressions in Occupied Jerusalem and solidifying calm in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly