“There are two issues which cut to the core of the identity of both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people: displacement and Jerusalem. It’s all there in this limited space of Sheikh Jarrah, and once you put them together, it’s nuclear fusion.” Daniel Seidemann
The current conflict over Jerusalem is not perceived to be an example of antisemitism, even when critics rage against Israeli policies and actions there. At the same time, the critics often view the behaviour as an exemplification of the reverse, of Jewish discrimination against non-Jews, particularly Palestinians that is often perceived as having equal weight to antisemitic hatred. Analyzing this alternative may provide some insights into differentiating antisemitism from discrimination as well as examining the possibility that Israeli action may be a possible stimulus.
Sunday evening marked the beginning of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) in Israel commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War. Jerusalem may be a sacred city for Jews, Muslims and Christians around the world, but this spiritual centre is also a focus of conflict. Friday, the last day of Ramadan, was marked by Palestinian protests at the Al Aqsa Mosque in which at least 205 Palestinians and 105 police officers were wounded; 15 Palestinians were arrested in Jerusalem and, more unusual, another 15 in Haifa. The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service reported that most of the wounded suffered injuries to the face and eyes by rubber-coated bullets and shrapnel from stun grenades. Yesterday, three additional battalions of the IDF were deployed to the West Bank and severe warnings were delivered to Hamas in the Gaza Strip about any additional rocket attacks and incendiary baloons. A serious effort is underway to confine the eruption to Jerusalem.
This morning’s headlines and bylines included the following:
As Jerusalem Violence Escalates, Israel Tries to Put Genie Back in the Bottle
Jerusalem, United in Violence, Marks Bloody Anniversary Today
Israeli Police Fan the Flames at Temple Mount Instead of Putting Them Out
Arab Citizens of Israel Show Unprecedented Involvement in Jerusalem Protests
Jerusalem Has All the Ingredients for a New Intifada – but So Far It Hasn’t Happened
Of all the areas of tension in Israel and the occupied territories – the areas next to and in the Gaza strip, the West Bank centres of settler harassment of Palestinians, the resort of individual and small groups of Palestinians to once again resort to terrorism and violent attacks against Jews – Jerusalem now stands at the top of these violent arenas.
The reasons for this current firestorm and its location include a confluence of many events:
- Israelis and Palestinians are all on edge as a result of COVID-19
- Jerusalem is experiencing a heat wave
- As a result of the pandemic, thousands of Palestinian youth remain unemployed
- Israelis are depressed, lacking a secure government and effective leadership
- Israel’s police chief, Kobi Shabtai, and Jerusalem District Commander, Doron Turjeman, are inexperienced heads, having held their positions for only a month
- the Government of Israel final authorization to go ahead with the construction of 540 settlement units in the Har Homa E area in south-eastern East Jerusalem that will encircle East Jerusalem with Israeli settlements
- settlement advances in the Givat HaMatos area of Jerusalem encompassing 170 dunams bordered by Talpiot on the north, Gilo in the south and Beit Safafa to the west, reinforces this process
- religious tensions spawned by Ramadan
- the end of Ramadan on Friday with the Eid al-Fitr festival
- 70,000 worshippers attended the final Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa
- afterwards, thousands protested peacefully waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans
- following evening prayers, hundreds of Palestinian worshippers began hurling stones and other objects at the Israeli forces
- in Sheikh Jarrah located just outside the Damascus Gates of the Old City, dozens again protested eviction orders
- the imminent convergence of Mass Muslim Prayers and the Jewish Flag March this evening; the latter may be postponed or, at the very least, rerouted at the request of Israel’s domestic security, Shin Bet
- the approach of Nakba on 15 of May commemorating the Palestine “disaster” of 1948
- the very recent cancellation of the Palestinian elections by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
- the claimed reason for that cancellation, namely the failure of the Israeli authorities to allow voting booths to be set up in East Jerusalem post offices, contrary to the terms of the Oslo II Accords
- Increased terrorist activities in the West Bank – Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinians after three men opened fire on an Israeli base
- The continuing Palestinian protests against the evictions of Palestinian residents in Sheik Jarrah when the Israeli Supreme Count today was scheduled to once again rule on whether the eviction orders will stand and be enforced; The Supreme Court once again just announced that once again the decision has been postponed
- The ongoing evictions in Silwan on the other side of the Old City from Sheikh Jarrah and from al-Bustan just south of Silwan
- Far-right Israeli provocations by politicians like Kahanist MK Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit Party, who first announced the move of his “pop-up” parliamentary office to the Sheikh Jarrah area and then, under pressure, postponed the planned move until after Ramadan in return for a police presence near homes claimed by Jews.
The city is once again in crisis. Let me focus on one source of the crisis, the dispute over the ownership of homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area. The general claim is that in Sheikh Jarrah, as well as in areas like Silwan, Palestinian families are being forcibly evicted from their homes to be replaced by Israeli settlers. The reality is more nuanced. The Supreme Court of Israel endorsed lower court orders that the evictions are legal. The Supreme Court offered a compromise in which the residents would be allowed to continue in residence for the lifetime of the original adult occupants provided they; a) formally acknowledged Jewish ownership of the houses; b) paid rent, and c) agreed to move when the original occupant passed away. On Thursday, the Supreme Court once again delayed its decision and gave the residents until 10 May to decide whether they would accept the proposed compromise, but yesterday postponed its decision once again. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, with the instigation of the defence and intelligence establishment, requested that the Supreme Court postpone the scheduled hearing today on the appeal by Palestinian families against their planned eviction from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
In late November 2019, the Supreme Court rejected the Sabagh (originally from Jaffa) and Hamad (originally from Haifa) families’ appeals against their evictions. That rejection was viewed by the 500 residents of Sheikh Jarrah as a prelude to the forced removal of the whole community. For example, Abdel Fataq Sqaffe is a 71-year-old occupant of one of the houses and there are 14 members of his household; that family is among others facing eviction. Earlier that year, on Sunday, 3 March, the judge of the Israeli Enforcement Authority rejected the petition of advocates on behalf of the five Sabagh families to cancel, or, at least, freeze the eviction orders issued in January.
Palestinians and peace activists claimed that the homes were being taken away because of the national identity of the inhabitants. That is, at best, only partially true. The residents facing eviction – four families now and three down the line – lost their homes in what is now Israel in 1948. Jews were also forced to flee Jordan, including East Jerusalem, as Jordan in 1948 made Jerusalem and the West Bank judenfrei. Though the last few decades following the Six Day War and the annexation of East Jerusalem, the Jews tried to reassert their ownership of those houses.
In the nineteenth century, the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Israel Committee bought the original ownership of a plot of land near the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik, a Jewish priest in ancient Israel. According to scholars and archeologists, a small Jewish community existed for thousands of years in Sheikh Jarrah around the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik. Jordan captured the territory in 1948 and, in 1956, built, with the help of the UN, 28 homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to house displaced refugees from what was then Israel. The tenants paid rent to the Jordanian general custodian and, I believe, continued to pay rent to the successor Israeli authority.
Well after Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six Day War and annexed that part of the city, problems arose in 2002 when Nahalat Shimon, a US-based company, purchased the land from the two community councils in 2003 with the intention of replacing the current residents with Jews, conditional upon the communities obtaining a waiver from the rabbinical court to permit the sale of the land, permission which was obtained. Nahalat Shimon then launched a serious legal effort to evict the existing occupants of the houses in order to demolish the neighourhood and build 200 homes for Jews.
A protest movement ensued in 2009 with demonstrations every week to protest the results of a series of court cases. In a few cases, the Palestinian families settled and moved in return for cash payments. But as the protests became caught up in the broader and deeper Jewish-Palestinian nationalist struggle, legal claims and counterclaims dragged out the process for twelve years. During that period, Jewish Israelis had only been successful in one legal case and four families were evicted. Currently, thirteen households with 300 people face eviction. Today, a ruling was expected by three families after they rejected the Supreme Court proposed compromise, but it has once again has been delayed.
A compromise had been proposed as early as 2010 by two academics, Professor Yitzhak Reiter and Lior Lehrs at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. The state itself would expropriate the land now owned by Nahalat Shimon and determine what should happen with the occupants and the houses built by the Jordanian government. The presumption is that Israel would launch a housing program for Palestinians rather than Jews. Needless to say, under Netanyahu governments, the proposal went nowhere.
At the same time, the Palestinians were not allowed to use the Israeli legal system to reclaim their homes in Jaffa or Haifa. In the legal case over Sheikh Jarrah, almost two decades of the repossession efforts took on a new “lease” as the company provided documents to the court establishing its ownership of the land while the Palestinians presented evidence that the documents were fake. Jordan also provided documents that purportedly backed the residents’ claim and documented that the homes on the land had been constructed by Jordan. Though residency rights were at issue, the main battle was fought over ownership rights and rights of redress. But the battle was really about the authority of the whole Israeli legal system and, in particular, the Supreme Court. At an even deeper level, it is a struggle between Israeli Jewish nationalism and Palestinian nationalism.
To be continued; Foreground and the Current Controversy