The Palestinian neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, north of the Old City, is yet again at the forefront of Israeli settler colonialism, as dozens of Palestinians are facing forced expulsion from their homes. Simultaneously, footage of Palestinian protests against the dispossession, Israeli border police firing skunk water at Palestinian sit-ins, and Israeli police assaulting unarmed Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan have been shared (and partly censored) on social media globally.
But why are Palestinian families who have lived in their houses for decades facing eviction to make way for Israeli settlers? And how is the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which has triggered recent escalations, related to the general policies of Apartheid Israel?
Why Palestinian families face eviction in Sheikh Jarrah
The decision made by the Jerusalem District Court to forcibly dispossess six Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in May and another seven families in August, is based on developments dating back to 1956. During that time, when the West Bank and East Jerusalem were still under the mandate of Jordan, a deal between Jordan, the UNRWA and Palestinian refugees from Yafa and Haifa displaced in the 1948 war was reached. With this deal, 28 Palestinian refugee families were promised deeds to houses they would receive as part of a humanitarian initiative in return for the revocation of their refugee status. However, the promise of property deeds has never materialised, and after the 1967 war East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel. Ever since, Israeli settler organisations have filed legal actions to claim the houses as their own (despite the fact that East Jerusalem is Palestinian land which is only occupied by Israel), leading Palestinian families to live in their homes with the constant fear of “if they steal our land”.
Ethnic cleansing vs. Real estate dispute
The most recent Jerusalem District Court decision and the impending evictions put Palestinian Jerusalemites at risk of not only losing their homes, but also one of their remaining neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, which is still resisting Israeli settler colonialism. At the same time, the court decision represents just one among a long history of legally sanctioned eviction and dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Following a policy dating back to the time of Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s, the gradual expulsion and settler colonialism have successfully obscured the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
Accordingly, the Israeli government now tries yet again to hide its settler colonial project by preventing large parts of the press and society from entering the neighbourhood. Palestinians like Mohammed el-Kurd, a member of one of the families facing evictions, however, counteract that policy by sharing their struggle over social media.
Rather than trying to save face in this situation, the Israeli Foreign Minister’s description of the evictions as a “real estate dispute between private parties” underlines Israel’s open and systemic racism.
While Palestinians, whose very existence is threatened, are still waiting for a final decision by the Jerusalem District Court on the appeal against the expulsions, a number of European governments are issuing statements calling “on both sides to […] resume a credible and meaningful dialogue”. The only question is how long it will take before the world finally realises that this is not about “two sides”, but about an Apartheid system which will continue to commit war crimes unless the international community finally recognises the systematic ethnic cleansing and takes actions.