The Arab world is nothing if it is not Palestine, which is at the heart of Arab culture and the world’s most widely followed religions. So why is Palestine struggling, even on simple matters that involve obvious violations of the international rule of law? I understand the politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict: It is debatable and often distorted and exaggerated. But the international rule of law is very clear and is nondebatable.
This week, 500 Palestinians living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah were forced to appeal not to the Arab world but the International Criminal Court (ICC). Despite being bullied by both Israel and the US, two of the world’s most powerful nations, the ICC is forging ahead with an investigation into potential Israeli war crimes in the Occupied Territories. The ICC probe is to Israel what Israel’s bulldozers have been to Palestinian homes.
The Palestinian appellants represent 28 families who assert that Israel’s military is seeking to evict them from their homes in a deliberately racist manner. The Israeli bulldozer is deliberate and steady, and will evict four families on May 2, along with three more by Aug. 1, throwing them all out on to the street.
I don’t get the lack of support for these homeowners. The world is screaming about violations of the civil rights of African-Americans at the hands of US police. Palestinian, Arab and Muslim activists have declared solidarity with the family of George Floyd and backed the wave of protests that followed his death. And yet the silence in support of the Palestinians in Israel is deafening.
OK, some 190 Arab and Muslim organizations have co-signed the letter from the residents, but that is not enough. The concerns of the Palestinians should be on the front lines. But they are not. It is easy to sign a letter and declare solidarity, but apparently it is extremely difficult to direct the world’s attention to Israel’s ongoing criminal enterprise.
Israel wants to evict these Palestinians in order to replace them with Israeli Jews, settlers who have been protected by the state and ignored by the world. The Israeli settler movement steals lands from Christians and Muslims, builds Jewish-only settlements and uses violence to protect their land theft.
What are the Sheikh Jarrah Palestinians asking? That their civil rights be protected. Israel has no internationally recognized legal authority to forcibly evict them from the homes they have occupied for generations. But it has the political mandate given to it by the US and the Arab world’s silence to ethnically cleanse Arabs from Jerusalem.
If the Israelis can throw out the Palestinians of Sheikh Jarrah, they can throw out Arabs from any land or location in the Middle East and North Africa. If the Israelis can defy international law with such callousness, they can defy any international law and even contracted agreements that they have signed with other governments. How can any Arab government trust Israel to keep its word and not violate the principles of its promises? Who can believe Israel’s word?
With all the generous gestures being made to Israel by Arab nations recently, you might think they would ask for something in return. Like that Israel might be compelled to adhere to the international rule of law in Palestine and to respect the civil and human rights of the Christians and Muslims who live on the lands where their religions first began.
The Arab world can and should move ahead with its efforts to embrace peace, expand relations between Jews and Muslims and forge a new climate of peace and understanding, cooperation and respect. This would create a strong foundation on which to build economies and strengthen the lives of people.
If the Israelis can throw out the Palestinians of Sheikh Jarrah, they can throw out Arabs from any land or location.
But unless this new environment is built on the bedrock of justice, civil rights and the international rule of law, what are those agreements but meaningless rhetoric and empty promises? The Arab world needs to step up to the plate and use the new environment it is seeking to create as a powerful foundation to litigate for peace and justice in Palestine.
If the Arab world cannot do that — and it has been a long time since it really tried — then what kind of culture will emerge from this new environment, which is supposed to be built on “mutual understanding and coexistence as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom?”