Foreground and the Current Controversy in Sheikh Jarrah
The Jewish Flag Day March was initially neither cancelled nor rerouted from its planned start at 5:30 p.m. yesterday through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. Then, at the last minute, it was rerouted and then canceled. Just prior to that, Religious Zionism (Otzma Yehudit Party) chair, Bezalel Smotrich, along with other Knesset members from the party, toured Sheikh Jarrah stirring shouting matches between Jews and Palestinians.
Jews had already been barred from the Temple Mount as a precautionary measure, especially following violent clashes that began on Friday and escalated on Saturday between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police when police forced themselves into the Al Aqsa compound ostensibly to protect the Western Wall from stone throwers in the run-up to Saturday night’s Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night in Islam. In that action, 215 Palestinians and 21 officers were injured; additionally, 153 other Palestinians and 3 police officers were hospitalized; the injuries of 7 of the Palestinians were serious.
Hamas, in an effort to take ideological leadership of the Jerusalem protests and encounters with Israeli police on the Temple Mount, has escalated its attacks against Israel, firing over 200 rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory, injuring seven in Ashkelon. Even the Knesset was evacuated as Jerusalem was also targeted. Israel bombing reprisals in an operation called “Guardian of the Walls” hit 140 targets in Gaza, including sites for manufacturing and storing rockets, training and military complexes, as well as two underground tunnels and the home of a battalion commander. The Gaza Health Ministry reported that 24 had been killed, including nine children, and 103 injured.
In the United States, the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) led the protests on behalf of the Palestinians over the planned evictions in East Jerusalem. (Settlement and Annexation Report of 7 May 2021; webinar hosted by Lara Friedman of 6 May, “Jerusalem on the Verge: Dispossession & Violence in Sheik Jarrah, with Aseel AlBajeh, an Al Haq legal adviser and advocate, and Budour Hassan, a journalist. https://fmep.org/resource/index-of-fmep-webinars-podcasts/) The four families currently targeted for eviction rejected the proposed Supreme Court compromise that the Palestinians would be allowed to remain provided they paid rent and recognized Jewish ownership and agreed to vacate when the original Palestinian occupant died.
“We the four Sheikh Jarrah families firmly reject the terms of this agreement, for these are our homes and settlers are not our landlords. The inherently unjust system of Israel’s colonial courts is not considering the questioning of illegal settlers’ ownership and has already decided on the families’ dispossession. This pattern of elongating the legal process is common practice to dull popular resistance and public opinion protesting these expansionist colonial efforts. As the threat of expulsion from our home remains as imminent as ever, we will continue our international campaign to stop this ethnic cleansing.”
The four Palestinian families facing expulsion even refused to meet with Mansour Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Israeli party, the Islamist-leaning United Arab List (Ra’am) that holds four seats in the Knesset, claiming that he had allied with Israel’s right-wing. After spontaneous Palestinian Israeli protests broke out on Monday evening across Israeli cities, beginning in Jaffa and in the northern Arab city of Umm al-Fahm and the nearby Wadi Ara (in Lod, one Palestinian man was killed by a Jewish Israeli in response to the threats of 200 protesters hurling stones), for today, Palestinian Israeli students organized a sympathy and solidarity strike with both the Sheikh Jarrah resisters and the residents of Gaza. The controversy has become a national Israeli one as well as an international one. This crisis has been building for a long time. Various left and peace movement individuals, such as those in Shalom Achshav, have expressed both sympathy and support for the Palestinian resisters led by the coalition of 14 Palestinian NGOs in the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC).
On the international front, the European Union, Kuwait and Jordan expressed alarm at the potential imminent evictions. Jordan summoned the charge d’affaires of Israel’s Embassy in Amman to protest Tel Aviv’s continued escalation and attacks against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi claimed that documents showed the Sheikh Jarrah Palestinians were the “legitimate owners” of their homes [not the land] and that Israel was “playing with fire” in pressing forward with the evictions which were in violation of international law and the “historical and legal status” in Jerusalem. Morocco, Singapore and the UN Secretary-General expressed “concern,” Turkey called on Israel to end its attacks on Palestinians, Bangladesh, Russia and Indonesia condemned those attacks, and Switzerland insisted that the expulsions were violations of international law. As might be expected, the strongest criticism came from Iran. In a tweet, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister,
censured the Israeli regime’s moves against the Palestinian people and said, “It wasn’t enough for the Israeli regime to steal people’s land & homes; create an Apartheid regime and refuse to vaccinate civilians under illegal occupation. It had to shoot innocent worshippers inside Islam’s 3rd Holiest Mosque upon Islam’s Holiest Eid.”
In contrast, Canada’s Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued as non-partisan a statement as one could imagine. “Canada is following the situation in Jerusalem closely. We call for immediate de-escalation of tensions and for all sides to avoid any unilateral actions.”
Representatives Marie Newman and Mark Pocan of the US Congress, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Jim McGovern, Rep. Hank Johnson, Rep. Andre Carson and Rep. Ilan Omar, urged Secretary of State Tony Blinken and the Biden Administration to join in that support and pressure the Israeli government to rescind the eviction orders. Note that Newman and Pocan both co-sponsored Rep. Betty McCollum’s recent legislation specifying actions Israel may not finance with U.S. taxpayer funding. The legislation also calls for additional oversight under the principle that, “U.S. assistance intended for Israel’s security should foster peace and must never be used to violate the human rights of children, demolish the homes of Palestinian families, or to permanently annex Palestinian lands.”
The above members of Congress released an open letter on Friday (see attached) that declared that:
- The current debate over the four homes and the eviction orders was part of a long pattern of forcible displacement, ongoing home demolitions and forcible transfer of Palestinian civilians not only in in East Jerusalem currently focused on Sheikh Jarrah, Wadi al-Hummus and Al-Bustan, but also in the West Bank;
- The legal claim is being made by settlers backed by the government;
- The settlers plan to evict the Palestinian residents in Sheik Jarrah;
- The settlers plan to demolish the four houses in Sheikh Jarrah;
- These actions are all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a sentiment echoed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights who said that the evictions, “if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law”;
- The State Department should pressure the Israeli government because:
- East Jerusalem is occupied territory and its 1967 annexation by Israel is illegal;
- As the Occupying Power, Israel is obligated to abide by the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 53, which states: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or co-operative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
- Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) defines as a war crime the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
- The pressure should consist of:
- Launching a formal protest;
- Condemnation of Israel’s home demolitions in unequivocal terms and taking diplomatic action to end this policy;
- Investigating whether materials supplied by the U.S. as part of its defensive aid package was used in any demolitions;
- U.S. Embassy officials in Israel should be instructed to send observers to document Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians, including details on the military units involved in these operations and the usage of any U.S. weapons for purposes of oversight and accountability regarding Leahy Law and AECA violations.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Friday insisted that the Palestinians were “presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause in order to incite violence in Jerusalem.” However, the reasons for the conflict lay deep within the Zionist/Palestinian conflict and even within interpretations of Judaism. Israeli law provides that only Jews are eligible to seek and receive so-called abandoned land. But this land and the houses were never abandoned. Rather it is land that is being repossessed.
But there is a deeper reason offered by the ultra-Orthodox and even Orthodox. Verse 2 of chapter 25 of Leviticus from this past Saturday’s Torah reading states:
|א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר.||1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying:|
|ב דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם–וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ, שַׁבָּת לַיהוָה.||2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.|
שַׁבָּת לַיהוָה , a sabbath unto the Lord, is a sabbath for the land and not just an obligation of the Jewish people. That is unique. Although in Canada or the US, Jews only are obligated to keep the sabbath, in Israel, that obligation for many of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, falls on the whole land. That means, according to some religious interpretations, that, in order to ensure the sabbath is respected on all territory of Israel, when title to land is regained by Israel, it must be sold to Jews dedicated to maintaining the sabbath.
Thus, inequities are built into both Israeli and Jewish law that do not allow Palestinians even to launch claims for land they lost in 1948 but do allow Jews to make claims for their abandoned property. It is not difficult to see why there might be objections – and there are – to this type of Zionist, Israeli state and Jewish theological justification for what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah. While protesters claim colonial settlement, apartheid, dispossession and repossession, the source of conflict goes much deeper, even if, on the surface, this is merely a civil claim over ownership and tenants’ rights.
There is an escalating hierarchy of threats to characterize the position of the other side. At the pinnacle from the Jewish side, used by Kahanist MK Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit Party, is the epithet antisemitic to characterize anti-Zionist opponents while praising Druze allies of Israel. In his maiden speech to the Knesset, Ben-Gvir praised his ideological mentor, Rabbi Meir Kahane (whose Kach Party was banned from the Knesset for racism). He was joined by his colleagues in the far-right, Michael Ben Ari, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein, all banned by the High Court from running for Knesset due to incitement to racial hatred.
From the Palestinian side, head of Islamic Jihad, Abu Hamza:
- saluted Palestinian violence in Jerusalem
- called for jihad in pursuit of its liberation
- referred to Sheikh Jarrah as the “land of martyrdom”
- praised the series of protests that took place throughout Ramadan, promising they would “spread to settlements”
- called for a renewal of the “running and stabbing” Israelis at checkpoints
- supported “shooting without hesitation”
- Called the shooting by Muntasir Shalabi of three Israeli teenagers at the Tapuah Junction in the West Bank, one of whom died, as “honourable”.
Extreme actions can be correlated with extreme words and epithets. If one defends “the heroic settlers who cling to all parts of our land” and sacrifice “themselves to settle the land” on religious and nationalist grounds, and then uses that justification to also mount attacks against Palestinians, that is Jewish extremism. If, on the other hand, Palestinian rights are not just defended in terms of tenancy rights, but, more radically, as a defence of Palestinian national rights, and then these defences are matched by attacks against the policy underlying the eviction efforts claimed to be colonialist-settler oppression and apartheid, is this not an expression of Palestinian extremism even though the courts are clearly willing to compromise and Jews are also ready to live within a predominantly Palestinian area? Does this depiction using negative epithets lack a descriptive content? Or does the dispute over Sheikh Jarrah express the practice of apartheid because Israeli law protects Jewish efforts to reclaim land and homes but not Palestinian efforts to reclaim their lands and homes?
My own conviction is that a detailed and contextualized description of the persistence of the Palestinian court challenges and the protests backing them up are fair and reasonable. So are the claims of the Jewish owners of the land. Compassion should be expected towards the Palestinians who believe they own their own homes in which they raised their families for decades. Courts exist to settle disputes where each side has justification. When those efforts at eviction turn to intimidation and even the use of force by non-state authorities, then we have illegal vigilantism that must be prosecuted. And when resistance to eviction is based on defining the courts as simply an internationally illegal arm of an illegitimate government, then the charge of apartheid verges on and even characterizes one expression of antisemitism.
To be continued: tomorrow – Part VIIC: Analyzing the Palestinian Position
The Honorable Antony Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Secretary Blinken:
We write to express our deep concern about Israel’s imminent plan to forcibly displace nearly 2,000 Palestinians in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Al-Bustan and Sheikh Jarrah. We call upon the Department of State to exert diplomatic pressure to prevent these acts from taking place.
According to media reports, the Jerusalem municipality is planning to build a biblical theme park–Gan Hamelech–in Al-Bustan neighborhood near the walls of the Old City after it demolishes 100 properties, which are home to almost 1,550 Palestinians, 63 percent of whom are children.1 In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, 169 residents, including 46 children, from 12 different families have received eviction notices so that their homes can be occupied illegally by Israeli settlers.2 Recent media reports have documented the blatant disregard for Palestinian families.3
From 1967 to 2017, Israel demolished an estimated 5,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, according to a report by the Land Research Center.4 According to B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, from 2018 to 2020, Israel demolished another 349 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.5
East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank, and, under international law, Israel is in military occupation of this territory, notwithstanding its illegal incorporation of East Jerusalem within the Jerusalem municipality and its subsequent illegal de jure annexation of East Jerusalem. As the Occupying Power, Israel is obligated to abide by the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 53, which states:
“Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or co-operative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
In addition, Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) defines as a war crime the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Al-Bustan and to evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah are in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The United States has long opposed Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. For example, on July 1, 1969, the Nixon administration’s Ambassador to the U.N. Charles Yost told the Security Council:
“The expropriation or confiscation of land, the construction on such land, the demolition or confiscation of buildings, including those having historic or religious significance, and the application of Israeli law to occupied portions of the city are detrimental to our common interests in the city. The United States considers that the part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June 1967 war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is occupied territory and hence subject to the provisions of international law governing the rights and obligations of an occupying Power. Among the provisions of international law which bind Israel, as they would bind any occupier, are the provisions that the occupier has no right to make changes in laws or in administration other than those which are temporarily necessitated by his security interests, and that an occupier may not confiscate or destroy private property. The pattern of behavior authorized under the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 and international law is clear: the occupier must maintain the occupied area as intact and unaltered as possible, without interfering with the customary life of the area, and any changes must be necessitated by the immediate needs of the occupation. I regret to say that the actions of Israel in the occupied portion of Jerusalem present a different picture, one which gives rise to understandable concern that the eventual disposition of East Jerusalem may be prejudiced, and that the private rights and activities of the population are already being affected and altered.
My Government regrets and deplores this pattern of activity, and it has so informed the Government of Israel on numerous occasions since June 1967. We have consistently refused to recognize those measures as having anything but a provisional character and do not accept them as affecting the ultimate status of Jerusalem.”6
We would also like to recall to your attention that Members of Congress have expressed recent concern as well about Israel’s home demolitions in East Jerusalem. On March 16, 2020, 64 members of Congress sent the State Department a letter expressing “concerns over the ongoing home demolitions and forcible transfer of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, including the recent demolitions in Wadi al-Hummus and other communities in East Jerusalem. We urge you to press the Israeli government to prevent more families from being forcibly transferred and having their homes destroyed.”
The letter also noted that “in light of the long-standing use of U.S.-origin and supplied equipment by Israeli security forces, we specifically request an examination of Israeli compliance with the requirements applied to recipients of U.S.-origin defense articles pursuant to the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 (AECA) as amended [22 U.S.C. 2751, et. seq.]. We also request a determination as to whether a report to Congress on this issue is required by section 3(c)(2) of AECA [22 U.S.C. 2753].”7
We also note that on March 12, 2021, 12 members of Congress sent you a letter stating: “We remain concerned about Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. We request that the State Department undertake an investigation into Israel’s possible use of U.S. equipment in these home demolitions and determine whether these materials have been used in violation of the Arms Export Control Act or any U.S.-Israeli end use agreements. We believe the State Department should condemn Israel’s home demolitions in unequivocal terms and take diplomatic action to end this policy.”8
We appreciate that the Biden administration has committed itself to ensuring that human rights and international law undergird our country’s foreign policy. Accordingly, we are calling upon you to:
1. Immediately send the strongest possible diplomatic message to Israel to desist from its plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Al-Bustan and evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
2. Publicly reiterate that Ambassador Yost’s statement on Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem is still official U.S. policy.
3. Undertake an expeditious review of previous Congressional requests that the State Department investigate whether Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes with U.S. weapons violates the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).
4. If Israel proceeds with its plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Al-Bustan and evict Palestinian residents from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, then the U.S. Embassy to Israel should send observers to document Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians, including details on the military units involved in these operations and the usage of any U.S. weapons for purposes of oversight and accountability regarding Leahy Law and AECA violations
We appreciate your urgent attention to the dire situation in the West Bank. We look forward to your earliest possible reply and working with you to uphold the dignity and human rights of all peoples around the world.
Member of Congress Co-signed by other Members of Congress
1 “Palestinians protest Israeli plans to demolish 100 houses in East Jerusalem,” Middle East Eye, March 19, 2021, available at: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hundreds-palestinian-protest-against-israeli-plan-demolish-100- palestinian-houses-east
2 Aseel Jundi, “Save Sheikh Jarrah: The online campaign giving hope to Palestinian refugees in East Jerusalem,” Middle East Eye, March 22, 2021, available at: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-save-sheikhjarrah-campaign
3 “Video shows Israeli settler trying to take over Palestinian house” Al Jazeera, May 4, 2021, available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/4/if-i-dont-steal-your-home-someone-else-will-jewish-settler-says
4 “LRC: Israel demolished 5,000 homes in Jerusalem,” Al Jazeera, March 14, 2018, available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/3/14/lrc-israel-demolished-5000-homes-in-jerusalem
5 “Statistics on demolition of houses built without permits in East Jerusalem,” B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, updated January 3, 2021, available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20210309092014/https://www.btselem.org/planning_and_building/east_jerusalem_statistics
6 Security Council Official Records, 24th year, 1483rd meeting, 1 July 1969, New York, p. 13, available at: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/580302/files/S_PV-1483-EN.pdf
.7 “Release: Khanna, Cohe, Eshoo lead letter urging administration to oppose the displacement of Palestinian families and ensure U.S. equipment is not used in West Bank home demolitions,” March 16, 2020, available at: https://khanna.house.gov/media/press-releases/release-khanna-cohen-eshoo-lead-letter-urgingadministrationoppose 8 Available at: https://tlaib.house.gov/sites/tlaib.house.gov/files/