The history of modern-day Palestine is a century-long story of colonial theft, displacement, and ethnic cleansing, one that continues to unfold on a daily basis in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. It’s where an indigenous population is continually uprooted from their homes to make way for their hostile settler-colonial overlords.
In the 53 years Israel has illegally occupied the Palestinian Territories, the settler population has surpassed 675,000, growing by a record 13 percent during the Trump era and doubling the growth rate of the population in Israel since the start of 2017, according to a report published by West Bank Jewish Population Stats.
When Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem declared Israel an “apartheid” regime for the first time in the organization’s history, it blamed, in part, the permanence of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian Territories, where Palestinians live under a different and discriminatory set of laws from the settler population.
The Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, where more than five dozen Palestinian families face imminent eviction from their homes to make way for additional Jewish-only neighborhoods, serves as a microcosm of the cruel and inhumane treatment that roughly five million Palestinians endure on a day-to-day basis.
On March 4, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected an appeal made by three extended Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah against a magistrate court decision to evict them from their homes on September 4, 2020. The ruling leaves 17 adults and 8 children of the Jarrah Hammad, Dawoody, and el-Dajjani families faced with imminent displacement and homelessness.
The Supreme Court’s ruling matches an earlier decision handed down to another five Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah on February 10, which promises to leave 20 adults and 10 children belonging to the al-Janouni, al-Qasem, Iskafi, and al-Kurd families destitute as of May 2, the date scheduled for their forced eviction.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 970 Palestinians are now at-risk of forced eviction in East Jerusalem, which has become home to more than 200,000 illegal Jewish settlers since 1967.
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What we are witnessing in Sheikh Jarrah today is the systematic effort by the Israeli government to turn a Palestinian neighborhood into a Jewish neighborhood, one family and home at a time, or what is ethnic cleansing by another name.
Several months ago, UN Secretary General António Guterres urged the Israeli government to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem,” to review and end certain Israeli laws “that have been used as a basis to evict Palestinians from their properties in East Jerusalem,” and “halt demolitions and forced evictions.”
These forced evictions not only violate international law and leave Palestinians homeless, but also separate these families from their primary source of economic activity.
These forced evictions not only violate international law and leave Palestinians homeless, but also separate these families from their primary source of economic activity, with many using their homes as storefronts to sell food and services.
Israel is using the application of a 1970 Israeli law that allows Jewish families to reclaim properties in East Jerusalem they had lost during events surrounding the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, or what Palestinians call the “Nakba.” That year, more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their villages and homes by Jewish militias and terrorist groups.
No parallel recovery law exists for Palestinians, despite the fact it was they who bore the brunt of the violence and represent nearly all forced displacements during the 1948 period. In other words, the small number of Jews who fled East Jerusalem more than 70 years ago can return and reclaim their property but the large number of Palestinians who were expelled during that same period cannot.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not only subjected to a system of apartheid, or what is two separate laws for two peoples, but also a deliberate effort by their occupiers to make life as unbearable as possible so that they will feel they have no other choice but to voluntarily self-deport.
For instance, only 10 percent of Jerusalem’s municipal budget is allocated for Palestinian neighborhoods, which account for 36 percent of municipal revenues, while Jewish neighborhoods receive 90 percent of the city’s municipal budget, despite accounting for only 54 percent of municipal revenues, according to the European Parliament.
“The Israeli authorities do not invest in infrastructure and services for the Palestinian neighborhoods, be it physical infrastructure, public institutions, education, culture, or sanitation . . .”
“The Israeli authorities do not invest in infrastructure and services for the Palestinian neighborhoods, be it physical infrastructure, public institutions, education, culture, or sanitation, and do not allow residents of Jerusalem who married residents from elsewhere in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip to live together in the city,” observes B’Tselem.
“The implementation of this policy, aimed at cleansing parts of the city of Palestinians, is not new… Israel does not consider the residents of East Jerusalem as individuals with equal rights, instead [its] seeking to evict [them] from their homes since they stand in the way of the state’s objective of Judaize Jerusalem.”
If the United Nations, and the Biden administration for that matter, are serious in their advocation for human rights and democracy, then they must speak out forcefully and clearly against this flagrant violation of international law and human rights law, or what constitutes the gravest moral crime of all – ethnic cleansing.