This is a plan that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu started and is now being resumed by the government for change led by the new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of Yamina Party, whose cabinet is under strong pressure from the right to maintain this policy on Jerusalem.
Israel’s attempts to displace Palestinians from occupied Jerusalem targeted residents in Al-Bustan district in the village of Silwan, and the neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Batn Al-Hawa in the Old Town. Israeli authorities served several summonses to homeowners in Al-Bustan after they refused orders by Israeli courts to demolish their homes years ago, where hundreds of Palestinians live.
Even more unjustly, what is known in Israel as Kaminitz Law was forced on several Jerusalem residents, by ordering dwellers to demolish their own homes in occupied Jerusalem. If they refuse, Israeli authorities tear down the home and fine the owners $28,000 for the cost of the demolition.
Fakhri Abu Diab, a member of the Committee for the Defence of Silwan Land, believes Israel covets Al-Bustan neighbourhood because it is no more than 300m from the southern wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Abu Diab noted that Israel has always sought to expel Palestinians from neighbourhoods surrounding Al-Aqsa Mosque in an attempt to take control of the land and build King David’s Garden.
He further explained that Israeli authorities see the 70-acre neighbourhood as part of the cultural heritage of the Jewish people, and more than 100 Palestinian homes are at risk of evacuation under the pretext of lack of permits. Abu Diab added that many of these homes under threat were built before the occupation of Jerusalem, which means they do not need permits.
He said these measures are part of Israel’s ethnic cleansing policies and create a new reality in favour of Jewish settlers in Jerusalem. In March, the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem rejected engineering plans for Al-Bustan neighbourhood and refused to halt its demolition order. The issue of Al-Bustan goes back to 2004 when the local Israeli authorities decided to demolish a Palestinian neighbourhood to build a “public park”; after international pressure the demolition order was frozen only to be reactivated this year.
Meanwhile, Israel has put the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah under lockdown and harasses those entering and leaving. It only allows a handful of journalists in, and the harassment has managed to limit the number of those who sympathise with the neighbourhood. Activists in this Jerusalem neighbourhood, which has recently come under the spotlight, believe Israel is biding its time until the issue disappears from Arab and international public opinion, then it will carry out its scheme and intimidate residents. Abu Jarrah dwellers face measures that both make their lives difficult and impose a new status quo which Israel wants to make irreversible.
The Israeli Supreme Court decided to begin looking into appeals by Abu Jarrah families against eviction notices before 20 July, while an Israeli court decided to postpone ruling on an appeal by two families in Batn Al-Hawa in Silwan. Batn Al-Hawa is one of 12 neighbourhoods in the Jerusalem village of Silwan, south of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and is one of the areas under threat of complete removal or displacement of its Palestinian residents.
Sheikh Jarrah’s troubles date back to 1956 when UNRWA and the government of Jordan signed an agreement with 28 refugee families from Haifa stipulating that these Palestinian families must surrender their rights as refugees in return for homes in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem — which was under Jordanian mandate at the time. The land would be registered in the names of these families after three years of forming an urban community. The Jordanian government, however, never did register that land in their names as it was not an urban community at the time.
In 1967, Israel occupied Jerusalem and the land remained unregistered, which is the pretext Israel is using to claim Palestinians do not own the neighbourhood, making it part of Israel’s public property which the state is recalling.
Israel was able to evict, almost evict or displace residents and owners of Arab neighbourhoods surrounding the Old Town in occupied Jerusalem. Palestinian activists in occupied Jerusalem believe all these acts are part of Israel’s plot to take control of these neighbourhoods – first, to pave the way to implementing the greater scheme of demolishing Al-Aqsa Mosque, and then rebuilding the Temple on its rubble.
So far, the Israeli municipality has served 6,817 court-issued and administrative demolition orders to Palestinian residents of the occupied city, while some 300 Palestinian homes are under threat of eviction in Batn Al-Hawa and Sheikh Jarrah. These are all part of Israel’s displacement plot in favour of its settlement scheme in occupied Jerusalem.
Along with the eviction and demolition orders, Israel allows settlers to organise marches in the Old Town to assert the Jewish identity of the city. Most recently, 20 settlers marched on Bab Al-Wad road, chanting and singing in Hebrew in the face of Jerusalem residents and passersby, according to the Palestinian News Agency. Right-wing groups in Israel support these marches as part of a plan for the Judification of the Holy City, and more importantly use these marches to destabilise conditions in Jerusalem and trigger a backlash in other Palestinian areas.
It is an attempt by the opposition led by Netanyahu to place political and security obstacles and challenges in the way of Bennett’s government, in order to embarrass him with his supporters, showing him up as weak, especially since the new government includes an Arab political party. Netanyahu will try to manipulate contradictions in the new government to bring about its collapse, which he promised to do several times within a day of ending up in the opposition.
Palestinians remain pessimistic, even after the departure of the right-wing government led by the chair of the Likud Party. For 12 years in power, Netanyahu keenly picked up the pace of settlement building and confiscating Palestinian land. He imposed strict measures against Palestinians, especially in occupied Jerusalem, which was subjected to large-scale Judification under his tenure.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyeh said in his address to the cabinet, “Netanyahu’s ouster is the end of one of the worst periods of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”. But he added, “we do not believe the new government in Israel is much better than its predecessor, and we condemn [Bennett’s] declaration of support of settlements”.
Palestinian analysts believe the policies of the new cabinet of multiple ideologies will be similar to Netanyahu’s, if not worse, since it includes three former defence ministers who acted criminally against Palestinians and gave legitimate cover to settlement building.
Although Palestinian factions are trying to link what is taking place to Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and the future of the truce in the Gaza Strip, Israel views this as a red line and a goal that must not be achieved to prevent the popularity of these factions from rising, especially Hamas which controls the Gaza.
Hamas views events in occupied Jerusalem as the trigger of conditions on the ground and a possible justification for a return to armed confrontation with Israel. Bennett’s government is in a battle of wills with Palestinian factions, and does not want to appear defeated on the top issue on its agenda by abandoning measures in Jerusalem while the Right lies in wait, monitoring its performance and fishing for mistakes.
The fact that Israel is not allowing a breakthrough in Gaza after recent escalation between the two sides increases the likelihood that Palestinian factions will choose confrontation again, especially since they raised the expectations of Palestinians regarding a breakthrough in economic and even political conditions in Gaza.
Current conditions make a return to square one on the truce and understandings of de-escalation the most likely outcome, and allows for a return to military confrontations, especially since Palestinian factions believe Israel is procrastinating in delivering the benefits of a truce between the two sides.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly