The threat of forced evictions of Palestinian residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem has not subsided, as Israel’s Supreme Court considers its final ruling. The high-profile case has drawn international attention thanks to social media influencers and the courageous stand of the neighborhood’s residents.
In May, the threat of evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and Jewish settlers’ incursions of Al-Aqsa Mosque under Israeli protection during the holy month of Ramadan triggered a bloody showdown between militant Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel. While a shaky truce continues to hold, Israel’s plan to demolish tens of houses in Silwan, a town situated on the edge of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, may trigger another clash and unleash waves of protests across the West Bank.
Since Israel occupied and later annexed East Jerusalem, it has been following a policy of ethnic cleansing that is aimed at forcing the city’s Arab residents to leave. Imposing hefty fines and taxes and denying Palestinians building permits, while punishing those who expand their existing buildings without permits by demolishing the entire structures, are facets of this policy.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that, in 2020, at least 218 Palestinian households in East Jerusalem had eviction cases filed against them — the majority initiated by settler organizations — placing 970 people, including 424 children, at risk of displacement. The settlers are using a 1970 Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim properties lost during the 1948 war — a right denied to Palestinians who lost property in the same conflict, including Palestinian citizens of Israel. This law is being used to claim Palestinian property in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. A total of 65 families in Sheikh Jarrah are threatened with eviction. At least 10 families have already been evicted from that neighborhood.
The Silwan case is broader and more dangerous. Israel wants to raze tens of buildings to set up a biblical theme park. Since 1967, at least 74 families have been evicted in Silwan, while the threat of immediate demolitions affects 20 houses. On top of this, Israeli courts are studying property claims filed by a Jewish settler group that could affect another 86 Palestinian families. The town is home to 50,000 Palestinians who do not have Israeli citizenship.
It is important to note that moves to evict Palestinians from their homes, especially in areas close to Al-Haram Al-Sharif (what Israel calls the Temple Mount), are politically and ideologically motivated and have little to do with legal procedures. Israeli courts provide these unlawful evictions with apparent legal cover, even though such measures are a breach of international law.
What is infuriating is that the international community does little to condemn such war crimes and, in many cases, looks the other way while Israel builds and expands illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. To say that the UN and most governments consider these settlements illegal is not enough. As for the forced evictions, they have been going on for years but on the individual level and on a smaller scale. Israel is today threatening to carry out mass evictions and the wholesale demolition of Palestinian homes.
The recent war between Israel and Gaza focused attention on the plight of Sheikh Jarrah residents, and Israel got its fair share of negative media coverage. But rights activists say that Israel is merely biding its time and waiting for the media attention to shift elsewhere before it carries out more evictions and demolitions.
Israel’s moves to evict Palestinians are politically and ideologically motivated and have little to do with legal procedures.
The objective is clear and is being driven by a dangerous cocktail of far-right ideology and religious bigotry. Far-right Israeli politicians and Jewish settler groups want to Judaize the holy city and its environs and the only thing standing in their way are the Palestinian residents. For their steadfastness to continue, they need help to endure the pressure and intimidation, present their case in court, and bring global attention to their calamity.
Unfortunately, the existing funds and endowments, mostly nongovernmental, can only do so much as their resources are limited. There is a need to set up a more visible body that aims at supporting the steadfastness of Palestinians in the holy city.
But even then such efforts could unravel while Israel continues its policy of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem with impunity. Western governments cannot speak about supporting the two-state solution, which includes an Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem, while saying nothing when it violates international laws and conventions on a daily basis. The so-called Israeli exceptionalism, where Israel is tolerated for failing to respect and implement laws and resolutions, must end — but that will not happen until there is accountability.